Please allow family ‘reunions,’ Mr. President

ABS-CBN Corp. once a-gainst demonstrated its combativeness against President Rodrigo Duterte — a portent of things to come if it gets to open again — when it very pettily picked on his trip to his hometown Davao City last week, claiming that he was violating the quarantine rules that his own government has instituted. It was only ABS-CBN that tried to make an issue of Duterte’s Davao trip.

How vicious or dumb these people can be. He is the President for chrissake, and he is free to go around everywhere in the republic he heads when he wants for whatever reason.

But Duterte’s trip actually highlights his humanity, with  his Presidential Security Group chief Col. Jesus Durante 3rd remarking: “He is in Davao after more than two months of not being able to see his family.”

However, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases that he assigned to deal with this crisis should think about it.  It is indeed time to allow families to “reunite,” to let parents and grandparents be with their children and grandchildren, in this horrific moment of our history. Not to sound morbid, but I would prefer to spend the end of days, or just a period of hunger, with my family.

Indeed, what many people deplore about this lockdown, which is on its 70th day today, is that they’ve been cut off from their loved ones.  Facetime, Viber or the new Zoom just don’t cut it. If you’re 75 like Duterte, who’s even in a high-risk, high-pressure job, you’d be hurting each day you don’t see your loved ones, since you’d be wondering every day how many days would you have left on this earth.

There are many in my generation whose sons and daughters (often with their grandchildren) live in the city, while they live in the less-polluted, calmer nearly rural areas outside of metropolitan Manila, for instance the Calabarzon area in the south. The lockdown that started March 12 banned travel to and from the National Capital Region.

As in my case, my son’s family who live in Quezon City thought the quarantine would last only for two weeks, and they had thought they, especially with my grandson, would be able to visit us in the south.  I would think many unmarried Filipinos have been stranded in their tiny apartments or even condominium units in the city, dreaming each night of going home for a good meal cooked by their mothers.

Now it seems the lockdown will last at least till the end of the month, which makes it 82 days — three days more than Wuhan’s 79 days — since I’ve seen my grandson, who brought sheer bliss to me and my wife starting just last year. Local governments — from the provincial level to the municipal down to the barangay (village) — have amazingly proven to be quite efficient in enforcing the lockdown. Visiting family is not considered to be essential travel.

Other than the economic costs, the lockdown has and will have a severe psychological impact on us, although to the credit of Filipinos, their social-media posts mostly show them making fun of what virtually has been their “house arrest.”

The prestigious medical journal Lancet in fact recently published a review of 24 studies documenting the psychological impact of quarantine (the “restriction of movement of people who have potentially been exposed to a contagious disease”) that’s worrying. The review showed that people who are quarantined are very likely to develop a wide range of symptoms of psychological stress and disorder, including low mood, insomnia, stress, anxiety, anger, irritability, emotional exhaustion, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Low mood and irritability specifically stand out as being very common, the study noted.

Lockdowns’ impact on children could be worse. Research by the American nongovernment organization Save the Children claimed that “feelings of helplessness, loneliness and fear of being socially excluded, stigmatized or separated from loved ones are common in any epidemic, while prolonged stress, boredom and social isolation, as well as a lack of outdoor play, can lead to a higher number of mental health conditions in children, such as anxiety and even depression.”

In Spain, where Save the Children interviewed nearly 2,000 lower-income families, it reported that “over a quarter of them reported higher levels of distress than normal, and many households reported their children were struggling with fear, anguish and concern about their family’s situation.”

According to a Save the Children report, “in Nicaragua, children said that they were afraid and frustrated about not being able to go to school, and the possibility of family members falling ill. In Indonesia, 66 percent of the children reported they were worried about the current pandemic, especially of falling ill with the virus.”

One powerful remedy to such children’s angst in this lockdown during the pandemic, of course, is to have, ehem, grandparents be with their grandchildren. But seniors aren’t even allowed to travel, and inter-city travel is still prohibited. Their children and especially grandchildren should instead be allowed to visit them.

For our, and especially my, psychological health and happiness, Mr. President, please allow families to be with each other during these darkest of days.


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