Stuck at home: The Philippines' senior citizens battle loneliness and isolation
Filipinos frustrated with the government's handling of Covid-19 crisis
Manila-- "Is it over yet? Is it over yet?"
“My dad never fails to ask every day if the pandemic is over. I feel a pinch in my heart every time he asks that question and I wish I can answer him 'yes,'" said Quezon City resident Helen Villaluz, who looks after her 88-year-old father.
Social isolation that breeds boredom and loneliness, coupled with decreased physical movement plague the Philippines' senior citizens, who are most affected by the government's Covid-19 lockdowns.
Exactly a year after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared the country under national emergency due to the pandemic, Covid-19 cases began to surge again in early March.
Last Friday, the Philippines logged in its highest number of Covid-19 cases with a total of 15,310.
The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases in conjunction with the local government units of the National Capital Region prohibited the vulnerable segments of the community from going out in public. The ban covers individuals 15 and younger and those who are 65 and older.
“When we started averaging 10,000-plus Covid-19 cases a day in March, it was like I hit a wall," Villaluz said.
"December was a good month for my 88-year-old father as he was able to go out with us to Christmas reunions and dinner, malls and parks. After being cooped up at home for many months, seeing family and friends brought joy to my dad."
With the renewed lockdown, Villaluz's father found himself stuck at home again.
"I can see his frustration as there are only so many Netflix movies that he can watch," Villaluz said. "His life belongs outside where he can walk freely, say hello to anyone and be sociable."
Nevertheless, Villaluz said she is pleased with the local government's management of the crisis.
"Our mayor is actively acquiring vaccines," she said. "I do not see this support from the main government."
Metro Manila and neighboring provinces were placed under general community quarantine from March 22 to March 31. But based on the recommendations of health experts and continued Covid-19 surge, enhanced community quarantine was quickly implemented from March 29 to April 4.
But apparently, these measures were still not enough to slow down the surge.
Last Saturday, the ECQ was extended for another week in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal. This time will be used by the government to increase its "Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat and Reintegrate" strategy, which requires a door-to-door survey where household members are checked if they have symptoms so that they can get tested and isolated.
"Why does this happen even when communities are under-regulated movements? “Because it was too late,” said Clerissa La Madrid, a businesswoman from Novaliches City.
“At this point, I am not expecting anything good governance anymore when it comes to overcoming this pandemic. Since the beginning, a system and a set of guidelines were lacking. After a year of the pandemic, our government leaders are still clueless as to what they will do next and how," La Madrid said.
“Obviously, senior citizens are the primary victims of this virus because there is no concrete plan," La Madrid said.
Compounding the Covid-19 surge are the pockets of resistance to vaccines, which resulted from the Public Attorneys Office's 2017 statement of opposition against Dengvaxia, a dengue fever vaccine. PAO claimed Dengvaxia did more harm than cure dengue.
"This was the case in spite of the fact the Dengvaxia is one of the vaccines recommended by the World Health Organization,” La Madrid said.
Villaluz said her father deserves a good retirement life after working so hard for many years.
"We are here to provide him emotional, physical and psychological support whenever he needs it and I hope the government will carry out plans that will zoom in to the needs of senior citizens with or without the pandemic," she said.
Clearly, the pandemic is far from over. For Filipinos, following the safety measures is not optional.
“I just pray that despite the government’s incompetence, the Philippines would not be subjected to a situation where we are all in a big mire just waiting to be eaten by the circumstances,” La Madrid said.