It was mid-March of 2020 when the first lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic was announced in Metro Manila. Days prior to the announcement I was nervously busy going out and about to prep up for the stay-at-home restrictions. Aside from ensuring we have enough supply of alcohol, disinfectant, and face masks, which by then were hard to find and with unbelievably high prices, I went out to stock up on food and a mix of things I thought we’ll need while locked down. I bought a new laptop, a printer, paper supplies, four walkie-talkies, a digital blood pressure monitor, extension cords, and sacks of dog food.
Much like in the movie The Hunger Games, being the head of the family, I was the “alay” or tribute. At the time, most barangays were closed or barricaded from outsiders to prevent the alarming spread of the virus. Entry and exit points were guarded and strictly monitored. And there’s only one in each household to be issued an all-day quarantine pass, which will allow you to go out either for work if you’re a frontliner or to get essentials. In my case I was the latter going out to buy my family’s day-to-day needs.
The lockdown creepily counted to days into weeks and then months. Curfew hours were implemented – children and teenagers, as well as the elderlies, weren’t allowed outside any time of the day. The nights were as if longer and alarmingly silent and I almost always woke up staggered to check out our window for any unusual activity. The streets were almost deserted. But by the time it was ok to go out in the morning, I would see other tributes outside with face masks on, not a clue as to the expressions on their faces. Walking in the same direction to the nearby market or grocery or drug store, where there would be long queues of people waiting to get in.
Now fast forward to March 2021. It was almost business as usual, General community quarantine or GCQ was never lifted but travel to more places is no longer restricted, companies that survived the pandemic are slowly starting to get back on their feet to recovery. Most commercial establishments are open. People are getting used to the mandatory face mask and face shield combo when outside. We’re slowly getting social again, reconnecting with relatives, friends, and colleagues. No need for the alays or tributes, given the prospect of more vaccines available, people seem to brave the outdoors and forgot to keep their distance. Until the positive cases breached the record count.
Now it’s as if we’re back to square one. Rumors going around for weeks of an imminent lockdown were in fact true. We’re now under the stricter enhanced community quarantine or ECQ implemented leading to the holy week. This after putting NCR and nearby cities in a subtle lockdown term called bubble. Vaccines by now should be accessible but the Philippine government is too slow in its procurement and inoculation of at least the frontliners and the more vulnerable. Herd immunity that other countries are targeting by the first quarter of the year seems to still be an aspiration than practicable here. There are now more variants of the COVID-19 virus that supposedly caused the faster spread and spike in positive cases. Hospitals are reportedly back to full operations or are overcapacity.
Unlike last year though, public transportation remains operational. An even weirder curfew of 6:00pm to 5:00am was implemented causing an unending funny meme that the curfew is due to the deadly virus being on the night shift. I thought I won’t be needing my quarantine pass, but here I am back to being a tribute. It’s scarier now though, as you probably know someone at work, a relative, or a long-lost friend who got exposed or fought and succumbed to a disease aggravated by the virus.
I’m now working full-time and go to the office on weekdays. The OC in me rarely brings down the face mask and sprays alcohol every time and all the time. I’m either at the office or at home and I have not been to the malls lately. I take a hot shower as soon as I got home and separate my laundry. A different tribute this time but almost the same vulnerability as last year, acting as if I would catch the virus anytime, thus taking extra lengths to protect myself and my family.
While you don’t have to be the alay as a sacrifice to sustain or protect your family, let’s do our part by following health and safety protocols, and staying home. Praying to bless and heal the world from this pandemic.