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Challenges of the Coronavirus in the Philippines

Editor's Note: Columban Fr. Shay Cullen shares this from the Philippines where he is on mission.

By Fr. Shay Cullen

We are facing an immense challenge around the world. Everyone has to realize the danger and stay at home and practice strict hygiene. Thousands are dying- friends, relatives and many die alone. We are people with rational intelligence. Everyone is important and equal in dignity and rights and we have to respect all and give help and support so more will be saved.

Philippine slum

During lock-down, together with family members, we can do practical tasks, forming bonds and showing others we care for them and love them. We can call our parents and tell them that we love them and thank them for giving us life and education and support so we can live a healthy meaningful life. Parents should call their children to say that they love them, too. In these challenging times, we all need to come closer in spirit with each other when we must practice social distancing.

There is economic damage and loss and many jobs are gone. Government can provide help. Let us consider ourselves more fortunate than the abandoned, unemployed, migrant workers, Filipinos among them, on the streets of Dubai and Doha or locked down in the industrial area of Doha. There, the COVID-19 infection is spreading out of control among the thousands of workers locked in and guarded by the military in their confined, overcrowded quarters. There is no hospital there. There will be a high death toll, and no one will know how many. For those too in other Middle Eastern countries, the Philippine Government must reach out through the Embassy and rescue them. They are in dire straits, a journalist told me over the phone.

Everyone in stay-at-home quarantine faces challenges. There will be stress and tension of close confinement, arguments will erupt and there may be violence and broken homes as a result. But the happy side for those who have lived isolated lives and are separated from family is that they will hopefully come together to talk and listen to each other and have a new family experience by sharing life stories and experiences and be united.

In the teeming slums, social distancing is not possible where shacks and shanties, hovels and plastic shelters are crammed together. Many will die unknown, uncounted, until they gain herd immunity if ever. 

The other challenge of the lock-down is having the children at home all day with their parents if the parents are not in essential jobs. It is a great chance to spend quality time with the children and parents can get to know and understand and interact with them. They can do many things together: lessons, games, singing, chatting, playing music, cooking, watching movies or television together.

Coronavirus challenges us to be compassionate and caring to suffering patients when sickness strikes. There is the physical pain of this dangerous flu, headaches and body pain. There is the emotional stress of not knowing if you or your parents or relatives have it, and if yes, will you or they survive? We need to let others know that love and support is there in abundance. We stand together in the face of this pandemic. It is the great leveler, the rich and the poor can get it. But the rich Filipino politicians have taken unfair privileges getting themselves tested when they had no symptoms and testing kits in short supply.

The homeless, are challenged above all. They are without family or friends, adrift on the streets, sleeping in doorways and under bridges. If they are crowded into shelters, the coronavirus will get them too. Many are already doomed. They need all the help the social services department can give. The challenge is for slum dwellers to survive. They are the poorest and the most vulnerable. They are malnourished, have weak immune systems and cannot isolate themselves. In the teeming slums, social distancing is not possible where shacks and shanties, hovels and plastic shelters are crammed together. Many will die unknown, uncounted, until they gain herd immunity if ever. 

What a challenge it is for the doctors to stay free of infection. Many have died already because they lacked protective gear. They have to decide who will live and die when there are only a few ventilators in the hospital for too many patients in desperate need of the breathing apparatus. These are heartbreaking decisions to be made. When there is no life-saving ventilator, for some it is like a death sentence. They die alone, isolated from friends or relatives, no one can come close- such is the contagious nature of this plague because it is an incurable plague that all of modern medical science and knowledge is unable to conquer. A vaccine is far off.

Taiwan and South Korea were prepared and acted quickly to impose lock-down and made millions of testing kits and has been and is testing everyone. They have efficient epidemic control centers since the SARS. They have isolated those positive for the infection and trace all with whom they had been in contact with and quarantined them, too. It worked and has the pandemic under control. They have shown the world how to do it. Will the world take the challenge and learn that prevention is infinitely better than cure?

Columban Fr. Shay Cullen lives and works in the Philippines.

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Columban logoThe Columbans are a society of missionaries, including priests and lay people, who minister to people of various cultures as a way of witnessing to the universal love of God.

We go in the name of the Church to announce, by deed and word, the Good News of Jesus Christ.

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