At the front lines of COVID-19

The COVID 19 pandemic has often been characterized as a war against the spread of the virus and the imminent threat that it poses on our society and people. Thus the term frontliners has become a byword in our vocabulary denoting the people who have to soldier on to fight this viral infection and preventing the loss of life among its numerous victims which as of this week has broken beyond 65,000 confirmed cases.

To adequately fight this war and to win it calls for the mobilization of the country’s best resources (both material and human) and calling for extraordinary effort from all of us in these extraordinary times. 

At the forefront of these efforts are what we call us our first responders to include not only the doctors or nurses that are usually featured in the press but the rank and file workers such as news and emergency drivers, emergency medical treatment personnel (EMTs), lab technicians, soldiers and policemen manning quarantine checkpoints, security guards in our hospitals, coast guard personnel in our ports and even firemen who have to rush in not only when fires break out but are also called upon for disaster response. They are the unsung heroes who are risking their lives (also of loved ones who they can infect at home, if they fall ill) so that our communities are spared the spread of the virus and mitigate the disease’s effects among us who may be needing medical intervention or hospitalization. 

Macario Telpo has been with the current affairs (CA) department of the recently shut-down ABS-CBN for the last 19 years. He spent all those years as a driver helping the CA team gather stories and materials to be aired on their programs. His last assignment was on “Failon Ngayon.” When ECQ eased, Telpo returned to work and twice or thrice a week, would go out with the CA team to look for stories that will help the viewers understand this pandemic better. It was a work he found fulfillment in, not just financially, as he was able to send his two kids through college, but psychologically, as he is aware of the power of television to educate and bring information about the pandemic to the people. Telpo was in the middle of an ABS-CBN supporters’ rally when he took my call. In a voice that vacillated between anger and breaking down, he decried the utter lack of compassion by the government to the plight of the 11,000 people who will be out of work during this very critical time.

“I feel, not so much for myself, but for my countless colleagues, who have to fend for themselves when we could have fought this (virus) together and not to have to fight this government who was supposed to protect and help us,” he said. He painfully recalled that day in the newsroom when the legislators voted to deny the network its franchise, “Wala po akong magawa kung di lumuha sa sakit ng naramdaman ng oras na yon,” finally breaking down as we ended our interview.

It was the height of summer when the lockdown started. It was also the peak season for fire and firefighters and volunteers were on their toes. Robert de la Cruz started as a firefighter in 1980 and rose through the ranks to become the Fire Chief of the Dagupan Tondo Volunteer Fire brigade and eventually became their Fire Marshal. At age 64, he is now in-charge of coordinating and looking after the welfare of its 27 member fire brigades and their almost 2,000 volunteers. “It was challenging for our firefighters to answer emergency calls because of the pandemic. We had to continuously monitor the activities of our members in connection to the IATF safety protocols,” de la Cruz said. 

Despite the lockdown, their members still continue to serve the community when called upon despite the risks of COVID 19. This is their sworn duty and there is no backing down. Moreover, their service does not just end in responding to fires but also in conducting the misting and disinfecting of streets and alleys to prevent the spread of the virus.   

The question that comes to the fore is how well are we protecting these frontline workers or first responders given the crucial role that they play in combating this pandemic. The WHO in a report last April said that the Department of Health (DOH) has not prepared adequately for the onslaught of the pandemic with the Philippines having the largest number of medical workers infected (which is higher than the average) in the Western Pacific Region that has 37 member states and areas including China.

There were 766 doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers in the country who have contracted the coronavirus disease with about 6,599 confirmed cases of COVID-19 way back then. This week, the DOH reported 67,000 positive cases and a total number of 3,422 health workers who were infected with the coronavirus.

So we have not flattened the infection curve as DOH Secretary Duque said last week. Nor had the situation of our frontliners fared any better. What I am afraid of is that as the government tries to take a grip on the rising incidence of COVID-19 with new restrictions and resources thrown into the fray; that the problems of our frontliners’ health and safety may just fall through the cracks and allow to continue as in this instance of the more than quadrupling of the numbers of health workers getting sick of COVID-19 since April.

And lest it be forgotten, the hundreds and even thousands of other first responders throughout the country who are also at risk because they lack the equipment, the PPEs and proper guidance from DOH on how to best cope with the pandemic and keeping themselves and their families safe. 

Once again, on behalf of the citizenry and Pinoys world-wide, I  commend the numerous individuals, groups, organizations and companies who have in one way or another given support to our frontliners and continue to do so in recognition of the heroic efforts that our doctors, nurses,  barangay health workers, hospital orderlies, radiology technicians, ambulance drivers, EMT personnel, soldiers, sailors, policemen, firemen, etc. are doing out there — day in and day out, so that our loved ones, relatives, friends and neighbors could be taken care of and survive this virus.  And finally, a last word from fireman De la Cruz, whose volunteers’ corps have shown how ordinary people could be heroes too: “We hope our government and its officials will set aside every possible personal interest and truly focus on the general welfare of the populace. No actions should be laced with any political agenda.”

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