[OPINION] With the coronavirus crisis, it’s business unusual

Waldo Alcantara
[OPINION] With the coronavirus crisis, it’s business unusual
'Allow the scare to go on long enough and only the businesses with adequate capital and little debt will be able to see the end of the tunnel'

For most of us in Corporate Philippines, life goes like clockwork and often for good reasons. Being creatures of habit and natural allocators, we have most likely optimized our routines so as to allot a bigger slice of our finite 24 hours for things that makes us feel alive – relationships, hobbies, and interests. If this intentionally designed daily grind machine is threatened with even the slightest disruption, we are quick to deter, dismiss, downplay, or ignore.

Until we can no longer.

When initial reports of the coronavirus flooded everybody’s newsfeeds back in January, my “doomsday prepper” wife promptly took her action, starting with ordering the reusable face masks I am wearing today. She restricted her activities, pulled back on socials, and withdrew our daughter from Sunday school, resorting to live streaming Sunday worship services instead.

As a good husband who chooses his battles, I complied. But in my mind: “The virus is far away from here, the sea should stop it the way it stopped the bubonic plague on European shores. Of all places in the globe, the virus surely can’t get to a certain Pasig City.”

That was, until last Monday, when I dropped off my wife for the office as usual. I marveled at the eery fact that only St. Luke’s thick walls were standing between me and the virus, which was at that moment probably just some 200 meters away. Earlier I passed by TriCity Medical Center, closer to home, where there were two other cases. The official tally of the DOH quickly rose from 4 to 24 to 33 as of March 10. Now it has everybody’s attention.

We are naturally uncomfortable with two things: change and uncertainty. The coronavirus is pressing these two down hard on us all.  We are now forced to change the routines we have diligently nursed all this time. While it is still in my power to decide to wear a face mask or not, there are some things that we can’t help but act in accordance with.

The menial ones are less important but irritating. The badminton courts religiously graced by my group have now started to refuse entry. The gardening raid scheduled one weekend had been canceled, and our weekly grocery is now taking twice as much time due to longer lines from panic buying.

Then comes the tougher bit to members of the workforce. Companies started to break off teams into smaller units and scatter them across several locations as a business continuity contingency. In case a part of the team gets infected or has to be quarantined, there would still be a functioning unit somewhere. That means I would have to report in a location outside my route. (READ: Depth of economic slowdown depends on response – IMF)

Fortunately, working from home, previously frowned upon, is now being invoked by the few capable offices such as my wife’s, so I don’t have to go way off as much just to drop her off. My sister who took time off from her UAE job will have to self-quarantine first for two weeks when she returns there, at her own expense, before she can finish the remaining one month of her contract.

The business shakedown is very real. There are few businesses, especially the small ones, that can stay solvent longer than the scare of the virus. For instance, people I know from the hospitality industries are now forced to only take 3 shifts a week instead of the usual 5, as tourism grinds to a halt. Executives are forced to take their vacation leaves to help meet the quarterly targets that cannot be helped operationally.

The decrease in economic activity seems to have rattled investors also, whose pendulum has swung from the optimistic January where it valued PSEI an all-time high of 9078.37, to the pessimistic outlook now, where it is valued at 5,946.66 – slashed by an astounding 33%. (By the way, this is the best time to buy stocks.) (READ: Global stocks suffer historic rout, shrugging off central bank steps)

Businesses are still trying hard, though. In Makati, Landmark, SM, and Rustan’s are simultaneously holding “sales” to stimulate consumption and purchases. It will be a sort of natural selection in the businesscape. Allow the scare to go on long enough and only the businesses with adequate capital and little debt will be able to see the end of the tunnel.

While change is inconvenient and nagging, it is not as wearying as uncertainty. It then becomes a test of stamina. How long can you wear the face mask (if you are on the camp that believes it helps)? How long can you stay away from the malls? How long can you keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth? How long can you keep a dispersed team safe and functioning?

My solution is to once again build a routine around it. Find a less crowded marketplace and carefully source groceries from there. Then prepare food at home for the day’s intake – not just lunch, but also breakfast, snacks, and dinner, so you won’t have to go anywhere else. Wear the mask when traveling from home to office. Alcohol down upon arrival at the office, and at home go straight to the bath before your toddler’s hugs and kisses. Keep your hands in your pockets as much as you can. And pray, pray and pray!

An ounce of prevention is not worth a pound of cure. An ounce of prevention is not worth a ton of cure.

If I had the choice and my bills could wait, I would have just stayed at home and tended to my garden. But the stomach continues to grumble, and life continues on, so it’s business unusual. – Rappler.com

Waldo is an IT Consultant who also sells gardening materials at “It’s Homegrown,” and buys Philippine securities which are selling below their intrinsic values. He is husband to a virtuous wife, father to an adorable daughter, and servant to his Lord Jesus.

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