Time flies when you’re having fun. But in the state that we’re in right now, time still flies but we’re not entirely getting any fun from it. Well, maybe for those who are within the Tiktok world right now. But for most people, these past three weeks probably have been the hardest time. Last March 16, the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, placed the entire Luzon under enhanced community quarantine(ECQ). This means eight regions of the country are under strict guidelines to prevent the new coronavirus, aka COVID-19, from spreading.
In a world where people are urged to stay at home, businesses called for temporary closure, and nearly the entire economy coming to a halt, how has life been in Baguio? The city of Pines has recorded positive COVID-19 patients already since the first few days of the ECQ, however, the cases originated from people visiting the summer capital of the Philippines, which also means that tracking people who interacted with the patients is a bit easier to manage. Regardless, it still doesn’t change the fact that the city is in the same state as other cities — no one gets to go out freely, people in the streets are hardly seen, going out means buying groceries, and people who get to go out must wear face masks. Unfortunately, this is the new normal that we need to get used to. With that said, here’s what I’ve seen from Baguio since the lockdown.
Baguio is a popular tourist destination. Whether it’s a long or short weekend, people from the lowlands travel to the city to enjoy the coldest weather in the country. As a result, parks are always full of people and the streets are nearly as busy as the highways of Metro. The traffic condition is a lot worse, however, only during the summer and Christmas seasons. But before the lockdown, it was just a regular day in Baguio.
The past several weeks have shown a different side of the city. Within 24 hours of implementation, neither cars nor people can be seen roaming around. It was like a ghost town or a quiet place that has been abandoned. From the noisy vehicles to the chirping of birds, the sound was calming after a long time. It felt like a newly born Baguio. The air is rid of pollution and all you can smell is the coldness of the air. If there’s the best time to explore the city, it’s times like these when it feels the place is reserved for you. However, it’s the remaining operating businesses that still remind you that you’re under ECQ.
Only the essential establishments in the city are still in operation. Malls like SM is still open, albeit only the grocery section. Aside from drug stores, smaller food & beverage establishments are also allowed to operate. However, at least a few meters of distance between another person is required. And as mentioned, you need to have a mask even if it’s an improvised one. But before you even get to go out, you need to have a quarantine pass that’s issued by a local government unit (LGU). Getting one wasn’t easy at first. People flocked to barangay halls just to get registered for a pass. Like most barangays affected by ECQ, the experience was confusing and uncoordinated. But after a week, well, it’s still confusing and uncoordinated but to a lesser degree.
If you happen to own a car, then going out won’t be a problem. However, you can only have one passenger for your errands. As for those who rely on commute vehicles, it’s a bit complicated than that. Only select jeepneys are allowed to travel in and out of the heart of the city. Furthermore, the commute service is only available in three schedules — morning, noon, and afternoon. From 18-20 people in a jeepney, the number is down to half for the safety of passengers. This even includes health workers. But as of recent, the Baguio City Police Office(BCPO) has been offering free rides for health workers. As for the rest of Baguio, at this time, there’s only one place to go — the public market. With classes postponed, there’s really nothing left to do but to buy general needs.
Nearly the entire population of Baguio still relies on the public market to stock up food. That’s why nearly every weekend, the public market feels like it’s a regular day. The sheer number of people nearly denies physical distancing, but on the flip side, everyone has a mask. Even with the price freeze imposed by the government, meat, fish, and even vegetables are slightly bit pricier than usual. Just like the aforementioned establishments, the public market is only open from 6 AM to 5 PM. After that, the city is back to being a silent night.
In smaller parts of Baguio, people are a bit more generous. A friend of mine, who lives 10 mins away from Session Road, shared that some give away vegetables for free. This happens nearly every day.
Baguio isn’t only visited by tourists. It’s also a popular destination for students wanting to finish college in the city of Pines. Given the sudden ECQ, students who live in the lowlands that are an hour or two away from Baguio are stuck. While they have money and food for every day to worry about, some apartment owners are already willing to waive rent to support these students during these weird times.
As a whole, Baguio has been doing a good job of flattening the curve. There are two general hospitals in the city, but like other hospitals, it’s not enough to handle a sudden spike of patients. Resources are limited. As of writing, it had been 10 days since the local hospitals recorded a COVID-19 patient. Five has recovered from the virus, eight is still admitted with one recorded death. Around 280 people were tested negative, more than 2300 have completed 14-day quarantine, and a little over 1000 is still under completion. These numbers are expected to rise over the next few weeks, however, it’s a good sign that the virus is still, at the very least, manageable. If not for the extended ECQ that stretches from April 12th to April 30th, the city Mayor may have probably lifted the restriction of some business. A plan of post-ECQ is being deliberated already. If this trend continues, Baguio may be a step closer to its normal self.
As for me…
For someone who spends most of his time at home — working — having myself quarantined isn’t really the worst thing. I’m used to not leaving home for several days. Due to the nature of my work, sometimes I need a change of pace — I go out to my favorite coffee shop, order the same coffee, and try to get work done before sunset. If I’m feeling it, I’d sometimes stay as late as 8 PM. All I need is a computer on my lap and an internet connection. But writing isn’t the only thing that I do for a living. Nearly six months ago, I started working for a friend who’s into the photography/videography business. He would invite me to be one of his videographers for events, such as weddings or debuts. This type of work may still be considered as freelancing or part-timing but unlike writing, covering events or doing a photoshoot requires early mornings and late nights. In short, it’s a whole day (or more) commitment. But given the industry that I’m partly in, the pandemic forces clients to cancel bookings with us. Our group was originally scheduled to cover two events last month, but obviously, that didn’t happen.
With that said, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a social life. I don’t go to clubs nor drink alcohol unless there’s an occasion. I do miss going out, seeing friends, buying fast food, commuting, and walking to the same places that I’ve been for the past several years. We even planned a short trip to La Union, more than an hour away from the city, to give ourselves a short break. Everything was planned out, we were just waiting for the day to come. But of course, you already know what happened before that.
Now, you might be thinking that a person like me wouldn’t be affected that much by the pandemic. But the truth is, I am affected, too. There are times when my mind and body won’t cooperate — my productivity and creativity would just go away. I’ve taken this signal as a sign that I needed a change. And that change is usually going to coffee shops because who doesn’t love the ambiance of a cafe. Going out to a cafe also means getting a bit of workout. As I’ve mentioned, I like walking. Going to the center of the city is a 10-15 minute ride from home while walking to the cafe is at least 10 minutes. Given the situation right now, I knew I had to make a change somehow. So, I made a new routine. I now wake up a bit late than usual because, for some reason, my body wants to sleep past midnight. A cup of coffee jumpstarts my mind which leads to a productivity burst. And I try to squeeze in workouts just to keep my muscles active. My life now is a bit more routine. Was it hard to change the way I live? Not really. Do I like it? Kinda. Am I learning new things from the situation? Definitely. To me, life in Baguio since the ECQ isn’t too bad. I wouldn’t worry about myself, really. I’m more worried about the people who are gravely affected by the pandemic. But that’s for another story.