As we inch towards a full year of our lives under lockdown – the longest for any country in the world – we look back at a time when we were made to memorize what the different levels of community quarantine meant. These served as a guideline to the public as to the degree of movement allowed, which corresponds to the impact of the pandemic to their vicinity.
We were placed under ECQ, MECQ, GCQ, MGCQ, and occasionally, an “extreme” community quarantine, a “granular” community quarantine, and even a “surgical” community quarantine. We trained our eyes to the news to know what each of these means and how they varied from each other; we doubt if anyone could recall them now.
Today, despite the pandemic continuing to wreak havoc, all of those already seem ancient knowledge. Or, as Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) General Manager Jojo Garcia sees the situation, “mere labels.”
During an online press briefing on Friday tackling the government’s proposal to put NCR under MGCQ by March, Garcia said that the community quarantine rules currently in effect have already been adjusted to accommodate the resumption of more sectors.
“Ang GCQ right now is already an MGCQ, marami na ring bukas. Hindi na siya katulad ng GCQ noong araw. Label na lang ‘yung GCQ at MGCQ. What we’re doing for the past months is MGCQ. Wala namang difference kung ano ang mga bukas na establishments. Kumbaga ito ay magbibigay na lang ng kumpiyansa sa mga business sectors,” Garcia said according to a report by CNN Philippines.
He also quelled the public’s worry that a shift to MGCQ inside a densely-populated place like NCR could lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases. He said that, after a year under lockdown, Filipinos are already used to following minimum health protocols and observing physical distancing.
As far as we’re concerned, he’s right. We have been easing quarantine measures to give way to the recovery of the economy, and we achieved this without having to shift towards a lighter level of community quarantine.
However, we can’t help but be reminded of the undesirable Filipino trait of “ningas-kugon.” It seems to us that caution fatigue has also set in for our policymakers, which meant it was just a matter of time before they acknowledge that these acronyms are nothing but namesakes.
Ultimately, Garcia’s statement sets a potentially harmful precedent: that administrators can only communicate their crisis response so well, and that enforcers can only uphold the same for so long.
The language of a global pandemic is convoluted enough as it is; if plans were to work, they would need to be presented in as simple terms as possible. This may or may not entail getting rid of our obsession with complicated acronyms and mnemonics, and with fancy names for key roles like “czar.”