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Golf in the Time of the Community Quarantine

It hasn't been two weeks from the time I published an article defending Sherwood Hills' decision to hold a member's day event that the Interagency Task Force (IATF) and the provincial government of Cavite came down hard on the Trece Martires golf club, closing them down until further notice for violations of the guidelines put forth by the task force to prevent the spread of the Novel Corona Virus (NCV).

Perhaps the club was in violation of the guidelines, but the question now is why the guidelines are in place. Further more, why does the IATF even exist? 

To my knowledge, the IATF and all that it represents exist today as the lead agency to prevent the spread of the Novel Corona Virus and the disease associated with it - Covid19. Therefore, to my layman's understanding of the mandate is not to levy punishment or penalties on people or entities unless the violations endanger the population at large.

Let's go back to the first quarter of this disastrous year. The world went into a tizzy when the Novel Corona Virus decimated first Europe and the United States. The rest of the world went into lockdowns of varying degrees all in an effort to stem the spread of the virus. The Philippines followed suit with the strictest lockdown of any country in the world.

Today, most of Europe seems to have recovered and is trying to find a balance between a normal life while remaining cognizant that the virus is still among us and remaining vigilant to prevent further spread among their population. Asia seems to have recovered even more quickly; Taiwan never really went into lockdown and had one of the lowest incidences of the virus. Thailand, where the first incidence of the virus outside of China in Asia, has declared itself COVID-free and has essentially gotten back to a quasi-normal life.

It begs the question why we in the Philippines, amid the most restrictive lockdown on the planet, continues to struggle with the virus. The number of cases has not abated. If we are to believe the statistics of our Department of Health, the number of incidences continues to climb while the fatality rate remains mercifully low.

The other thing that bothers many of us is why the IATF continues with the same restrictive policies even when more is known now about the virus and most other countries have adjusted their policies in accordance with the current science while we continue to persist with the current strategies even if they have proven to be ineffective in halting the virus' spread.

The result is now that our economy is in freefall. More than half of the population in the Philippines is now without work. Businesses are closing at an alarming rate. Violent crime is on the upswing and more and more Filipinos are worried about how to provide the next meal for their families. On my infrequent trips to the city, I see more people begging in the streets of the city.

For enlightenment, it is best to study the most recent pandemic, the Spanish Flu of 1918, to see how the world coped and eventually got back to business as normal. 

The Spanish Flu ravaged the world for three years in three distinct waves. The main difference between the Spanish Flu and the Novel Corona Virus is that the Spanish Flu was hardest on healthy individuals while the NCV's victims are those with pre-existing health conditions or comorbidities. The world collectively decided to resume some semblance of a normal life in 1920, despite the flu's continued presence. The flu eventually died out, which was aided in no small measure to the fact that the last strain proved to be less virulent than the ones that ravaged the world in the two previous years and the fact that most of the world had already been infected giving the population a measure of herd immunity.

If we examine the NCV's effects in Europe and the rest of Asia, the strain that made its way to our shores isn't as deadly as the ones in either Europe or the United States. Our death toll has been low by comparison. A good thing because the community quarantine that we continue to endure has been largely ineffective in preventing the virus' spread. And yet the IATF continues with its policies largely oblivious to current science and the successes of the rest of the world. 

We have to ask why this is so.

Half a year has gone by since the country went into lockdown. Most of us are anxious to return to some sort of normalcy, the virus be damned. It is not because we have a death wish, but because we have no choice but to survive. We need to provide for ourselves and our families. We have bills to pay and our lives to live. The world isn't stopping for the virus so how can we stop living our lives?

This brings us to golf. It's already been established that golf is one of the safest activities in which we can engage in these times. Yet, the IATF seeks to limit most activities in which golfers seek to engage. We've already seen how they've come down hard on Sherwood Hills. Informed sources say that Alabang Country Club is facing the same fate because of a tournament held by one of clubs within ACC. Is this really necessary?

While both events may have well been in violation of the IATF guidelines, these guidelines were put in place to stop the spread of the virus. To my knowledge not a single new case of Covid has been attributed to either event. Could it be that the guidelines for outdoor activities are too harsh and are an overreaction by the IATF in their desire to discharge their duties? Can we really fault either club or its members for their desire to resume a quasi-normal life in the age of Corona Virus? Is it really about the prevention of the spread of the virus or about the power vested in the IATF? 

Like most living things on the planet, I do not believe that golfers have a death wish. Most golfers have been successful in their lives and know how to take care of themselves. Many, including yours truly, have used the intervening six months in quarantine to educate themselves about the virus and how they can keep themselves safe. They have complied with all the IATF's guidelines, including the ones they perceive as excessive. So, why does the IATF continue to come down hard on golf and other outdoor activities? These same activities are enjoying huge patronage in other parts of the world as their health authorities have deemed them safe. Why cannot we do the same.

Whether we like it or not, the Novel Corona Virus is now endemic and we're going to have to learn to live with it. We've already made drastic changes in the way we carry on with our lives; we've stopped shaking hands and hugging each other, we wear masks and even face shields when we conduct business in public, we keep our distance from each other. Aren't the rest of the "precautions" too restrictive? Do we have to crash our economy and create irreparable harm to the healthy to prevent the spread of a virus that is not as deadly as we initially feared?

The answer is obviously, no. Life as we knew it may be gone, but life must go on. The IATF needs to take stock of its guidelines and adjust them accordingly. I believe that the IATF needs to have more trust in us, the citizens of the Philippines and our desire to live fruitful lives. We do not seek to defy their guidelines as acts of rebellion. We merely seek to get on with living. Would it be so bad to let science and common sense be our guides? I think not.

God bless us all. 

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