Life at a standstill - Manila

Coronavirus lockdown brings out the best in people

It is the small things that get magnified a thousandfold when the world that you have come to know so well suddenly stops.

Will someone come to pick up the garbage in the morning? Will the plumbing hold? What if the stove or the refrigerator breaks down? Where will I get a haircut?

Since a third of the Philippines was put on lockdown last week to check an onslaught by a very contagious coronavirus, it is becoming apparent that, at least for the next 30 days, we will have to make it through mostly on our own.

This is when it pays to have attended to mundane chores that you have been putting off, thinking there will still be time to finish them. Well, time's up.

Private offices, factories, car repair shops and malls have closed.

Every tradesman we have come to rely on to keep our houses and cars in good shape - plumbers, electricians, mechanics - is staying home. Most doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who work in clinics are themselves on enforced holidays.

Those still working in hospitals have their hands full dealing with the outbreak.

A web of checkpoints, barricades and roving enforcers all across Luzon island - home to more than 50 million, and the size of South Korea - is making sure half of the Philippines' population stays put.

Our vulnerabilities are suddenly exposed. That, in turn, is making us more empathetic. We realise we need one another. So we offer to help, in any way we can. Those without much in life are offering the only resource they can spare: their time.

A cashier at a grocery near where I live told me she now walks 6km a day just to get to work because there are no more buses, jeepneys, ride-sharing cars and motorcycles, and even motorised rickshaws on the road because of the lockdown. Riding pillion is now prohibited.

She said her boss told her she did not have to come in if she was not able to get a ride. But she said she walks because she wants to help out.

A housewife with a nursing degree said she has been helping to intubate a neighbour, while looking after another neighbour who has had a stroke.

A college classmate, who now runs a towing service, told me he would be giving his employees a weekly allowance of 2,500 pesos (S$71) each while they are on furlough rather than to let them go.

He would have to dip into his savings, even as no money will be coming in for at least a month.

"Sometimes you are called upon to help. I'm just doing my part, however small," he said.

There has not been a shortage of heroes on the front line either.

A soldier, with his thick camouflage, helmet and rifle, stands for hours under the searing sun so he can man a checkpoint at a major highway leading to the capital, Manila. He and his platoon have been there for days. They have not been home. They sleep on bunk beds, with cartons for cushions.

He said he does not know how long he will be at the checkpoint. All he knows is that he is there to seal the border for everyone's sake.

Personally, I have to admit I am terrified. I took my daughter to a hospital the other day because she had a persistent cough. She had been running a fever but it broke a few days earlier.

I readied myself for the worst. The signs were there. She could test positive for the coronavirus.

After about two hours of tests, the doctor said it was likely just her allergies. So it has come to this. A cough is no longer "just a cough".

SPH Brightcove Video
The Philippine island of Luzon was placed under "enhanced community quarantine" on March 16 after measures to contain the new coronavirus by sealing the capital’s borders failed.

Source: Reuters, AFP and EPA-EFE
Produced by: Lee Pei Jie, Linda Yulisman, Tan Hui Yee, Rohini Mohan, Nirmal Ghosh, Raul Dancel, Tin May Linn and Trinna Leong