After 2 months of Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), most of the areas in the Philippines have shifted to General Community Quarantine (GCQ), meanwhile, NCR and other areas are now under Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ). With the final guidelines, the same quarantine restrictions are being applied, but slight changes were made as most of the businesses, sectors, and government work were allowed to resume operations. Some quarantine rules have been lifted, several non-essential businesses are allowed to reopen, and the so-called “new normal” are in place in all other areas in the country that are not under ECQ.
The term “new normal” has been the buzz phrase as the current COVID-19 pandemic forces us to make changes in how we work, shop, learn, eat and socialize. A study by the University of Southern California reports that the coronavirus had already created significant shifts in people’s behavior. Fear and uncertainty triggers consumer behaviors such as hoarding masks, alcohol, etc. People have been cautious as they are now working on their diet or hygiene, or reading more news.
Some of the old social norms like handshakes, beso-beso, even blowing of birthday cakes are already out of style. Meetings are now virtual. Most are now studying or working at home. Consumers embraced online shopping. Large gatherings are not allowed. Many weddings, sporting events or concerts are ruled out. Malls, gyms, restaurants, bars and places of worship, have limited capacity.
New societal norms have emerged, such as mandatory wearing of face masks, consciously practice physical distancing as much as possible and avoiding crowded places. Frequent handwashing, disinfecting or sanitizing stations in public areas must always be done. An assigned personnel checks temperature before entering building or office premises. Partitions, barriers, and marking spots have been created.
But the social distancing measures that are needed to limit transmission causes a lot of challenges. Human interaction is inevitable despite the enforced guidelines for physical distancing, even after the ECQ and GCQ. People still need to come together in shared spaces and vehicles.
The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the economic vulnerability of some sectors of society. Workers in the services sector are at high risk of exposure. In Metro Manila, large populations live in cramped conditions with little access to good sanitation, calling into question the ability to effectively implement measures such as social distancing. Limiting the number of passengers in trains, jeepneys and buses is a challenge for commuters. Drivers of the country’s mass transport system, especially buses and jeepneys, are notoriously known for their habit of cramming their vehicles before leaving for their destination.
In response to the challenges of living in the era of new normal, the Congress filed the House Bill 6623, or the “New Normal for the Workplace and Public Spaces Act of 2020”. This bill will prepare and educate the Filipino public for life after the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions and to adapt to the new norms of physical distancing. It institutionalizes a new way of life after the Enhanced Community Quarantine and serves as a guide to the public.
Until the virus is subdued by a vaccine – estimated to take two years – daily life is likely to be defined by the coronavirus. Like all crises, this pandemic brings out the best and the worst in us.
In the light of the pandemic, we must permanently change how we think, behave and relate to one another – we must adapt for a better normal. The government is requesting for everyone to cooperate and follow the guidelines to minimize the impacts of this pandemic. “If we go back, the contamination will be as fast as before, and it will continue to infect everyone.”, according to President Rodrigo Duterte.##