Labor in the time of nCoV-19

By Reyshimar Arguelles

A large part of the world is locked down or at least in a heightened sense of vigilance as the nCoV-19 pandemic has disrupted daily life almost instantly. Stock markets are tumbling, educational institutions have closed down, and major events have been cancelled, all thanks to a virus that is thought to have come from bats or pangolins.

But indeed, there is still much to know about nCoV-19. Health experts and medical research institutions are putting their heads together to learn more about the virus and the fatal disease it causes: CoViD-19. It is fortunate enough that medical technology has enhanced humanity’s way of confronting viruses.

It appears that we are also doing better than we did during the Influenza pandemic of 1918 and the “Asian” flu outbreak that occurred decades after, both of which caused millions of fatalities.

But seeing that nCoV-19 is a mysterious monster altogether, we should not settle with this feeling that we can easily get out of this situation. This is not a disease you can cure with calamansi juice and two tablets of paracetamol. It is not like having sinusitis or a cough. The virus could very well be a contagion the likes of which we have seen only in science fiction movies.

Very unlikely. But while we can rest assured the infected will not turn into the brain-eating undead, the danger is all too real, especially for the sick and the elderly. It is insane how people will go on to convince themselves they are safe from nCoV-19 when they can become possible carriers of the virus and infect the most vulnerable segments of society.

At this point, it is careless and moronic to single out people for overreacting as though the lives of grandparents and those suffering from cardiovascular illnesses are disposable. We have seen the statistics and we have seen what it has done to northern Italy and China.

But unlike the post-apocalyptic movies and video games we are all familiar with, the nCoV-19 pandemic would not be as devastating. And it is not because Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Last of Us are a work of fiction, but because the methods of containing the spread of the virus do not require stockpiling food, medicine, and semi-automatic rifles.

The guidelines issued by the World Health Organization are pretty clear: wash and sanitize your hands and avoid large crowds. Apart from these, home quarantine and closed borders remain the most effective methods of preventing virus transmission. That is why companies are urged to have their employees work from home — something that is easier said than done to a majority of laborers who have to commute and perform their duties on site.

As much as it has taken a toll on healthcare systems, the nCoV-19 pandemic has also taken social and economic dimensions, putting pressure on workers who are made to choose between Scylla and Charybdis: report to work and get exposed to the virus, or stay at home to confront financial uncertainty.

In the face of a global health crisis, companies will need to secure their bottom lines by taking advantage of the situation. In Italy where travel restrictions have been in place, certain companies in the industrial sector are allowed to continue operations, according to a recent article on Jacobin Magazine. In response, unions staged wildcat strikes, forcing companies to shut down.

It could very well happen across the world and may very well happen in the Philippines where, during the first workday since Metro Manila was placed under “community quarantine”, thousands of people queued at checkpoints and crowded transit points just to show up for work.

For sure, many of them never wanted this. But forced by necessity in such a dangerous climate, work is work.

If anything, they shouldn’t be forced to make such a difficult choice. What the government has to do now is to keep them afloat when all this subsides. The same goes for law enforcement members, medical staff, and everyone else in the frontlines, all laboring to keep us safe.