[OPINION] The kinds of borders we need in a pandemic

Heidi D. Mendoza

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[OPINION] The kinds of borders we need in a pandemic
'Transparent borders. Humane borders. Apolitical borders. Systemic borders. These will be extremely difficult to attain given the kind of governance we have.'

Do we really need borders in a pandemic? As of April 15, there are already 210 countries affected by COVID-19. 1,997,620 confirmed cases worldwide, 478,425 recoveries, and 126,596 deaths. In the Philippines, we already have 5,223 confirmed cases, 295 recoveries, and 335 deaths. We spend our days waiting for the numbers as if they were gunshots, with a hope that we will reduce these numbers soon.

Why do countries impose lockdowns?

More than a hundred countries worldwide have already declared either full or partial lockdowns. With COVID-19’s nature of transmission, a lockdown is seen as an effective strategy to halt further spread. Several studies have shown varying transmissibility of COVID-19, indicated by its reproductive number (R0, pronounced as R-nought or r-zero). On January 23, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated the R0 to be between 1.4 and 2.5. This means that one infected individual can transmit the disease to one to two people. In March 2020, a study by Zhao et al showed the R0 to be between 2.24 to 3.58. WHO released a fatality rate of 2%. (READ: Post-lockdown world will be ‘a new, different reality’ – expert)

These indicators can compel us to impose lockdowns. But our lockdown does not take into consideration realities on the ground.

Our lockdown and Enhanced Community Quarantines (ECQs) impose borders. We are bound by our imposed administrative boundaries – barangay, municipal, provincial, regional, and national borders.

Do we really need borders?

Our lockdown is the same strategy we use for our environmental and natural resources. We are mostly limited by administrative boundaries we have imposed on our resources. We treat watersheds not depending on their natural flow, but based on municipal boundaries. Several Local Government Units (LGUs) who share responsibilities over one watershed do not work together, because it is out of their jurisdictions. But water resources are not bound by borders. 

The same goes for this virus. It is not bound by our administrative boundaries.

Do LGUs collaborate to share plans, good practices, challenges, patterns of transmissions, and public transmission hotspots? Does the national government listen to LGUs who carry the burden of responding at a local level? (READ: LIST: Where to get info on LGU responses to coronavirus)

The human face of COVID-19

Transmissions are highly difficult to control, and part of it is because people are social beings. With this setup, we cease being the social beings we know to be. 

There are cases of denial in some areas. Families deny their vulnerabilities to the virus, probably because of fears of being isolated, or fears of not being able to pay hospital bills. They might also deny their vulnerabilities to the virus, because they have been resilient to a number of risks already.

When a loved one dies, we cannot hug them, nor hold proper burials. When we go to markets, we need extra efforts to practice physical distancing. I am not saying Sen. Koko Pimentel’s case is understandable. It is a case of selfishness. His standing case shows how people in power deny realities coming from the different faces of life. Why were the community members who’d gone out to seek food imprisoned?

A community member told me they do not believe in COVID-19; they only see this as the government’s strategy to impose martial law. Do we blame them? No. We do not know if they had been properly informed about the virus and their vulnerabilities.

At this point, as systems are altered by increasing pressures, there is no point trying to politicize the virus. 

What kinds of borders do we need?

Transparent borders. Humane borders. Apolitical borders. Systemic borders. These will be extremely difficult to attain given the kind of governance we have.

1. Proactive patient-based tracing, reporting, and monitoring

How do we trace probable cases? Where are the specific high-risk areas and establishments? Which barangay? Which street? What is the population profile in that specific area? 

Our analysis can only be as good as the data we have. As our datasets become more political, the harder it is to come up with evidence-based decisions. 

Imagine adjacent barangays governed by two different LGUs. If maps only show us cases at a municipal level without letting us know specific streets or barangays where cases are, our borders are useless. But if we make our borders transparent, we have a better chance of controlling further spread. 

2. Address the issue systematically

Current responses of our government make it seem like this is just another disaster; but this is unlike any other disaster we’ve had. Relying on donations will not sustain us throughout the crisis.

Until what point can the economy sustain this setup? What measures can be placed to address economic concerns? The amelioration program is putting worn-out band-aids on perpetual societal issues. The government failed to help communities during business-as-usual, and we have to bear the consequences of our misdoing for the coming years. (READ: [ANALYSIS] Challenges facing social amelioration for the coronavirus)

Environmental work was on a momentum; 2020 is the start of the decade of restoration. But how can environmental work continue in this setup? How can we keep our environmental work proactive to prevent violators from taking advantage?

What do we have on our plates? Our systems do not provide our farmers with enough support to ensure that their produce will be bought at a reasonable price. Our systems fail them continuously, yet we need them.

This is not a time to keep working in silos, but to work collectively to address systemic issues. The impacts will ripple. 

3. Scenarios and policies that take into consideration people’s conditions

We do not know if all communities understand the situation. It is easy for a government who does not see and understand realities on the ground to say on national TV that people should stay at home, and be thankful for the money they will be given.

Families who barely got by before the pandemic are pushed to the edge at these times. Their living horizons need to rebuild on a daily basis. Are our elderlies and other highly vulnerable sectors given enough attention and protection? 

The pandemic is an equalizer in a sense that everyone is vulnerable. But how we respond makes the situation more difficult. We further fragment society by using force, power, and politics as control measures, when we should work to make this period livable for everyone. Several LGUs genuinely care and do a good job for their people. We need this kind of border. (READ: [ANALYSIS] The Philippine gov’t should get cash into the hands of the poor, now)

It might be ideal to think of these borders, but unless we see our governments do their best and work with a heart for people, this ideal scenario will feel like a reality we just did not work hard for – or a reality that the government held from us. – Rappler.com

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