ALPSIDE DOWNED: United, Divided

BERN, Switzerland (MindaNews / 19 June) – For nearly a month now, my family has been holding weekend Zoom meetings to keep in touch with each other during the Covid-19 pandemic.

We ask about each other’s work and health, ask about our children and how they are coping, give tips on how to stay mentally healthy and exchange opinions on what the future will hold. We also reminisce a lot about our childhood and share old family photos online.

In a sense, the pandemic and the lockdown it has forced has united the family, giving us time to be closer to each other’s lives. Through our stories, the meetings have given us insights and perspectives on the impact of the events on the family.

I learned, for example, that while parts of downtown Minneapolis were damaged in the protests that followed the police killing of the black American George Floyd, the suburbs remained untouched. I told my brother who lives in Minneapolis that I was finally seeing his city up close but the images were not nice, even though I was glad to know that the violence had not reached his community.

They were also surprised to know from me that around February, Switzerland was in the top 10 Covid-affected countries owing to our proximity with Italy (our first case was a Swiss man infected in Milan), but had dropped down the list owing to an aggressive and proactive response by the Swiss government. At present, Switzerland is no. 37 in the Worldometers Coronavirus list –  just ahead of the Philippines – with only a double-digit fatality rate.

We praised our relatives in Auckland for the decisive policies of their Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern, including a 5-week strict lockdown that resulted in New Zealand declaring on June 8 that it was virus-free and had already moved to Level 1, two weeks earlier than their leaders had planned.

We also  envied our cousin in Munich who has been able to drink beer and relax in lakeside spots, after Germany started lifting its lockdown in late April. The German health minister pointed to four factors in the country’s successful management of its Covid cases, citing its low fatality rate: its properly funded health system, technological edge, decisive leadership, and its strong commitment to building public trust.

And the U.S?  We were dismayed to know that America has the most number of Covid-19 cases. Our brother thinks Trump has mismanaged the response to Covid by acting more as a businessman fearful of the pandemic’s effect on the American economy, instead of treating it as a disastrous public health emergency and deferring to medical doctors and scientists. A diabetic himself, my brother has worked through the pandemic because his bosses decided to open their shops during lockdown, and a few workers got sick and my brother had to take a Covid test, but thankfully tested negative.

But when we turn the discussion to the Philippines, we are stumped. The Philippine government started lockdown and quarantine measures only on March 15, or 45 days after the first Covid case (a female Chinese visitor) was reported in the country on January 30. And with no clear exit plan handed out at the moment, the Philippines probably has the longest-running lockdown in the world at three months.

I pity my family members in Manila who have had to patiently stay at home with only occasional forays outside to buy groceries or for appointments. Clearly they miss the fresh air and exercise and the social contacts that help physical and mental health. My brother and his family, wary of unsafe practice in Manila parlors, have opted to miss their haircuts during this extended quarantine period. We also worry every time our 83-year old mother—a diabetic and an asthmatic – is rushed to hospital in our hometown in Surigao due to her medical conditions.

I reflect that our common experiences under the pandemic has united us, but we are divided in our country experiences under different governments. And clearly the leaders who did not act quickly were caught in a bigger problem and their population has to suffer more. We ask ourselves: do citizens deserve to suffer longer because of ineffectual leaders?

[Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao City and also for SunStar Cagayan de Oro. He is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps.]

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