Ordered to stay home, children in Manila face risks beyond COVID | News on the coronavirus pandemic

Manila, Philippines – For a teenage girl who had spent five consecutive months indoors before, what was two extra weeks of being locked up?

Besides the quick walks to the neighborhood store to buy food, Britney Maturan, 16, stayed home from mid-March to August last year, when the Philippines imposed one of the longest lockdowns to the world in its capital region, Metro Manila, to avoid the covid19 pandemic.

So when the government issued another order on Wednesday that all people aged 18 and under and 65 or older stay indoors for at least two weeks, Maturan was resigned.

“It’s good,” she told Al Jazeera. “You get used to it anyway.

Metro Manila is grappling with a new wave of COVID-19.

The health department reported 5,290 new cases in the Philippines on Friday, most in the capital. That was only slightly lower than Monday’s total of 5,404 new infections, which was the highest single-day figure since August 2020, and double the daily average in recent months.

But with the economy still reeling from last year’s lockdown, the government is refraining from further imposing such drastic measures. He imposed a nighttime curfew on Mondays; the order to restrict minors and the elderly to their homes was seen as part of a negotiation to allow people of working age to continue working.

No more mobility restrictions

Local scientists are concerned, however, that new variants of the coronavirus, including one recently discovered in the Philippines, are leading to an increase in infections.

The OCTA research group at the University of the Philippines, which analyzes health statistics from the Philippines, says that if new mobility restrictions are not enforced, infections will continue to increase indefinitely.

“Our medical experts have suggested restricting minors and the elderly as they are more vulnerable [to infection]Jojo Garcia, the director general of the agency that oversees the Manila metro, told Al Jazeera.

“We just follow protocol. We just keep them from getting sick, ”Garcia said.

But pediatrician Dr Bernadette Madrid, executive director of the NGO Child Protection Network (CPN), says children and adolescents are no more susceptible to the disease than adults.

“They are as easily infected as anyone else, except it is difficult for them to follow public health protocols. How do you tell a child not to come near you, right? They won’t understand that, ”Madrid told Al Jazeera.

Curfew violators in Metro Manila arrested in waiting zone as government implements another curfew in nation’s capital amid surge in COVID-19 cases [Eloisa Lopez/Reuters]

Even Maturan sees the benefit of keeping young people like her inside.

“It’s just because at our age we’re more curious about everything and we love to explore, so we end up doing what we’re not supposed to do,” she says.

Stuffy and cramped houses

But as Manila takes advantage of the last breezes of the cool northeast monsoon, another tropical summer draws closer. Poor Filipinos usually escape the heat of their tin roofs and windowless living rooms when they get out and wander the streets.

Maturan lives with his mother and two little sisters in a meager two-story apartment in Pasig, one of the 16 cities that make up the metropolis of Manila. Its Maybunga neighborhood is one of the most crowded areas in the city – the houses have no courtyards, the front doors open directly into narrow alleys, and the houses are so close to each other that ‘it is even possible to listen to loud conversations next door.

Enforcing stay-at-home orders in communities like Maybunga presents a challenge for local governments. Police or village officers walk the aisles ordering strollers to move inside and people obey them. But as soon as the authorities are out of sight, they leave their homes and resume their activities outside.

“To be frank, it is very difficult to control areas where household floor space is very small and cramped. People will come out, ”Mayor Vico Sotto of Pasig told Al Jazeera.

In the poorest and most crowded communities, entire families share single rooms as small as 1.54 square meters, where they cannot all fit indoors at the same time, let alone practice social distancing.

Besides the physical challenge, forcing people to stay in such neighborhoods does them more harm than good.

“Staying in a cramped house 24/7 is not healthy. That is why we allow outdoor exercise. Outdoor exercise is encouraged, provided that social distancing can be maintained, ”said Sotto.

The Pasig local government has designated a lush 8-hectare (19.7-acre) park as a “safe zone” for walking and jogging, but due to central government guidance, those under 18 will not be authorized.

Forced to stay indoors, Maturan says she copes by staying on social media, which she says is almost as good as hanging out with her friends. She just misses going to the mall with them or visiting their homes.

Maturan is more worried about his sisters, one aged 10 and the other six.

“They are so bored here in the house. When you are a child, you want to play outside. Now they’re hanging on to their gadgets, playing mobile games, ”said Maturan.

“We agree that we need to limit face-to-face interactions now, but I think kids will need physical activity, especially if their homes are small and there are a lot of people inside,” Dr Madrid said.

Local governments just need to get creative, the pediatrician added. Some streets can be turned into playgrounds and the schedules are worked out so that children and adolescents can still soak up the sun and breathe the fresh air.

‘Why is it taking so long?’

Maturan does not dispute that he was ordered to stay at home.

“Either way, it will help because there will be fewer people outside. Somehow it will slow the virus down because when there are a lot of people the virus just seems to be circulating and people catch it, ”she said.

She has heavier things to fear. Maturan’s father, a caregiver in the United States, lost his job as the pandemic began to take hold there in February 2020.

Since then, the family has had to skimp on everything, including food. Money is tight and her mother has to stay home to watch her and her sisters, and there are few jobs to be found.

“Because of the lockdown, life has become so difficult. Things are not the way they used to be, ”said Maturan.

The plan had been for the family to emigrate to the United States, but it is now uncertain if they can handle such a move.

With the COVID-19 outbreak occurring exactly one year after the long lockdown, the stay-at-home order has heightened Maturan’s fears about the future.

“I’m worried that more people get sick, more people lose their jobs, more stores are closing like the first lockdown – they’re all coming back.”

The government should temper stay-at-home orders with “mitigation measures,” Dr Madrid said, otherwise the consequences could be dire.

“In our outpatient department, we get more consultations among adolescents with anxiety, depression – it’s really increasing,” Dr Madrid said.

Child welfare services have also faced more suicide attempts, as well as an increase in reports of sexual abuse. The group has yet to consolidate its numbers in a report, but Dr Madrid says the trend is evident.

“Almost every day we see a suicidal patient. We’ve never had this before.

An armed policeman checks a cyclist’s documents at a checkpoint set to enforce a curfew in the country’s capital [Eloisa Lopez/Reuters]

In May last year, the Justice Department said reports of online sexual abuse of minors tripled during the lockdown. The agency said it received nearly 280,000 tips between March and May 2020.

In cases of sexual abuse, the offender was most often the victim’s neighbor. Otherwise, it was a family member, Dr Madrid said.

Schools in the Philippines have switched to online learning and children are already spending a lot more time at home. With the government confining minors to their homes, Dr Madrid said parents and guardians should be on the lookout for domestic dangers.

The government, meanwhile, should ease the order a bit to allow children and teens to spend time in safe outdoor spaces.

Maturan says the pandemic and all of its aftermath has widened her perspective, but she still wonders when it will be over.

“Why is it taking so long? Why does the world seem so unfair? Why should this happen to us and why now? Why do people have to suffer? There are so many who are dying,” said Maturan.

Even though it makes her sad to think about the situation, she says there’s not much she can do but meddle in the long days scrolling through her smartphone screen.

“Just keep going. The world continues to turn anyway.

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