The Philippines has made significant strides towards recovering and overcoming the coronavirus pandemic that hit the world in 2020. Through a combination of adherence to safety protocols, implementation of contact tracing and vaccination programs, and the cooperation of public and private sectors to sustain the economy, we were able to get through tough times as a whole.

For the most part, we’ve earned the downward trend of cases and quarantine leniency we now have in many parts of the country. But we have to consider: is this the point where we just let our guard down and do everything we want like we used to, or do we need to endure reduced freedom for just a little while more?

Are we becoming too lenient in the time of COVID-19?

The worst spike in COVID-19 cases in the Philippines can be traced back to as early as the easing of quarantine in July 2021, particularly in the National Capital Region. This coincided with the first detected cases of the more contagious Delta variant in the country. Before that point, detected and confirmed cases had been on a gradual downward trend.

It’s possible that by mid- to late September 2021, eased travel restrictions between Metro Manila and GCQ areas may also have contributed to the spike.

All of this isn’t to say that relaxing those restrictions was totally wrong. But we must accept the reality that such leniency encouraged less caution among citizens at a time when greater caution was needed. And with the quarantine and alert levels being eased in the final quarter of 2021, we face the possibility of a spike occurring once more.

Should we be rushing to get back outside?

This is a question of manner, of how we go outside. Eagerness on our part is understandable, after having been under lockdown for the better part of two years. But being too eager is a danger – it leads to complacency, even when at places that are considered potential hubs for the spread of the coronavirus.

Discipline is called for here. We must understand the difference between possible and advisable. Just because something is now allowed, doesn’t mean we can engage in it with the same outlook as we did before the pandemic. We must remember that for the time being, these activities we wish to partake in carry a certain level of risk that cannot be ignored, vaccinated or not.

Is this the right time to go back outside?

The simple answer is NO, but there must be context to it.

This is not the right time to go outside as frequently or as leisurely as we would like to. Essentials are one thing, and even there it can be argued that necessities can be bought online and delivered to our homes. But for any other activity outside the home that isn’t strictly related to sustaining the basics of daily life, the risk of infection is still very much present and real.

We have been through downward infection trends before, and they have mostly led back to spikes in cases because of hasty decisions from the pandemic response authorities related to the movement of people in public spaces. These decisions may have been taken as “go signals” to go back to pre-pandemic lifestyles, which arguably puts people at greater risk of infection.

However, the pandemic is not yet over. That is the most important thing to remember, because it must inform the timing of our actions especially outside the home. The only way we can truly be safe while engaging in non-essential activities in public is when the pandemic has been beaten, and that will certainly involve waiting just a little while longer as the fight against COVID-19 continues. The wait will be worth it, though – going back to the things we used to do will be more fulfilling if we can do it without having to constantly worry about the coronavirus.

Is there a safer way to gradually reengage in pre-pandemic routines and lifestyles?

Well, yes, and the answer is already in the question. Gradual engagement is the key. There’s no need for fancy or complicated plans – it’s as simple as participating in these activities only sparingly. Pre-pandemic lifestyles are only on hold, not gone forever. They will still be there after the pandemic, and there is no need to engage in them as frequently as we can as if to make up for the time lost to lockdown.

What can we do to preserve the gains we’ve made towards beating COVID-19?

Again, there are simple courses of action to retain and even improve our progress against COVID-19. Simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy, but at least the idea should be clear and understandable enough that anyone can follow the reasoning behind it. And the idea is to keep following COVID-19 safety protocols.

Adhering to safety protocols will always be the most significant thing citizens can do, whether as individuals or as groups. Maintaining personal hygiene, wearing protective equipment, and observing physical distancing are part of this. But of course, there is one more component of safety protocols that is becoming less and less observed due to relaxing restrictions – staying home as often as possible. People are now outside more frequently and engaging in pre-pandemic lifestyles, and as has been discussed above this is mostly due to complacency.

Safety protocols are only as effective as the discipline we have in adhering to them. Ignoring one part of these protocols lessens the overall impact of the others. Not even vaccination can do much to protect us when we constantly expose ourselves to the outside world where the coronavirus still lingers. But adhering to all components of safety protocols increases their effectivity and supports the protection that vaccines provide.

We’re on our way to beating COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean we’ve already won. There is much work still to be done, and the best thing we can all do is to be more careful for a little while longer. The wait will all be worth it, when we head back outside in a COVID-free future. After all, this storm, too, shall pass.

Graphic element by jcomp via