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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, August 10, 2020
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Barriers and social distancing

Rock & Refuge

Barriers and social distancing are among of the most common terms being used during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Barriers became more popular when the government’s interagency task force for COVID-19 required motorcycles to have a physical block between a driver and a rider. Such action has been widely criticized because it might create danger, but authorities insisted, as they viewed it to avoid the possible spread of the coronavirus, which causes the pandemic. Other means of transportation, like buses and tricycles, have been required, too, to set up a system in observing social distancing among passengers.

Social distancing, or being physically away for at least two meters from other persons when you are in public places, has becoming the new norm, but I observed that many are not strictly observing this measure. This is an important practice to avoid virus contamination from saliva droplets and breathing of a person who might be a carrier of the virus. Additional health protocols these days are the mandatory use of facemasks, and although not yet compulsory, many also wear face shields. Of course, frequent hand washing is necessary, and as much as possible, to stay home and avoid crowded places.

The health protocols on social distancing and barriers have reminded me of our natural barriers, which might have been useful in cases of pandemic, like this COVID-19. It should be noted that the geographic features of the Philippines include numerous islands, estimated at 7,641, many of which are relatively smaller, especially in the Visayas region. In fact, the mainland of Luzon and Mindanao are the two much bigger landmasses in the country. The seawaters that separate our islands are already natural barriers, and so it is easier to contain the movement of the people once an island shall be closed from any entry, and coupled with strict implementation of lockdown or community quarantine.

Batanes and Dinagat Islands are the two islands in the Philippines that remain COVID-19 free to date, because local authorities made use of their isolation to strictly implement health protocols. Community outbreak or local contamination of the virus has and is still happening in many places, especially in the National Capital Region. The spike of the COVID-19 cases in other island provinces has been observed to emanate from the returning Overseas Filipino Workers and the so-called “Locally Stranded Individuals” who went home to their hometowns from abroad, Metro Manila, and other places.

While I would not in anyway put the blame on these OFWs and LSIs, it is supposedly much easier to contain, control, and monitor their arrivals and movement given the archipelagic nature of the country. Let us take note that this natural character of the Philippines had successfully controlled the national outbreak of some animal diseases in the past, like the African swine flu. In addition, such condition is important in containing when there is a spread, or worst outbreak, of a disease from a wildlife inhabiting in one island.

It is therefore of paramount importance not to bring or transport a wildlife species from one island to the other. That is usually happening in the wildlife trade. The separation of our islands has also resulted in the diversity of our wildlife species, some of which are only shared by several islands. However, some species are only restricted to a particular island, or what we call island-endemic species. It is not scientifically advisable to introduce species to areas where they are not naturally occurring, except when there is a need to translocate the species. Translocation may only be done in extreme conditions, particularly when the survival of a species in an area is no longer possible and viable, which, as far as I know, has not happened yet in the country.

I am glad that the proposed bridge to connect Negros-Guimaras-Panay has been shelved, although some with economic points of view may not be sharing my sentiment. Aside from concerns related to social distancing and natural barriers, the proposed bridge will threaten the existence of the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins that inhabit the coastal and marine waters where the bridge would traverse. Numerous water and migratory birds are likewise found along these areas, aside from ecologically and economically important marine resources that similarly exist in this part of the 7th Wetlands of International Importance of the Philippines.*

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