“I will explain to them why we are enforcing the law — it is for their protection and safety.” — Neil Sarez, front-line police officer

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The twilight looming over the agricultural town of Pagbilao cues the end of another day. While families at home are getting ready to sleep, police officer Neil Sarez prepares for a long night ahead.

Neil belongs to a team of cops manning the checkpoints of Pagbilao in the province of Quezon, Philippines. From his humble home in Lucena City, he reports daily for his 9 PM to 9 AM shift. Since the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was declared by President Rodrigo Duterte on March 16, aside from preserving peace and order in the community, part of his work now involves enforcing the town’s quarantine rules. 

While serving his post, Neil and his team come across people from all walks of life — and inevitably, to the constant risk of exposure to Covid-19. Apart from the risk of contagion, having to deal with people attempting to circumvent quarantine rules adds to his daily struggle. 

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“It’s mostly the elderly people who drive without their license that I deal with at the checkpoint. There are also some who insist on going out just to earn and survive through honest means. If only I could help them.”

The declaration of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine immensely affected the normal business operations and livelihood of people. This prompted an exodus of people from the metropolis to their respective hometowns. As Neil narrated, he had encountered some who have travelled from Manila on foot. While he is fortunate that he can still go home to his family every day, it’s already been weeks since he last talked to his wife personally.

“After my 12-hour duty, I stay at the first floor of our house while my family is upstairs. My wife and I can only talk to each other through our mobile phones for safety reasons.”

The whole world is still navigating through uncertainty from a battle against an unseen enemy, but Neil’s high hopes for the future remains unfazed. When the crisis is over, he plans to reconcile with the people he inevitably had misunderstanding while he was on duty. 

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“When this is over, I will apologize to those whom I might have angered and offended, and I will explain to them why we are enforcing the law — it is for their protection and safety.”

He has a short reminder for his fellow front-liners:

“To my comrades, before we perform our duties, let us pray for guidance. I have hope that one day, all these will end, and we will continue serving for the good of our country and for the glory of God.”

“Despite the stinking smell of garbage, I must do my job.” — Michael Gonzales, front-line garbage collector

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When Luzon was put in lockdown on March 16, most businesses and establishments in the National Capital Region ceased normal operations: offices, restaurants, factories, schools, malls were closed down to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

While movement of people had been restricted since then, the delivery of essential services like health care, markets and grocery stores, delivery, garbage collection, continued. People who belong in these groups have been tagged as front-liners — the modern-day heroes who unselfishly perform their work despite the risk posed by Covid-19.

One of these front-liners is Michael Gonzales, a garbage collector and sanitation worker of five years, who has been rounding up trash from homes in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, Philippines.

“I still go to work every day. Despite the stinking smell of garbage that I have to endure, I must do my job. It’s my source of livelihood.”

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Cabanatuan City is the most populous area in Nueva Ecija and the fifth in Central Luzon. If Michael and his fellows in the sanitary services will stop in the performance of their duties, the sidestreets of the city will overflow with garbage, the city will reek, and consequently, the health of the residents will be put at greater risk.

Thank God, they haven’t stopped.

Every day, Michael gets up very early for his 5 AM shift, as his routine is, unmindful of the life-threatening virus infecting hundreds of Filipinos by the hour.

“Even if there’s a virus spreading, I must be brave and depend on the mercy of the Lord.”

He said that a couple of times since the lockdown, he and his fellow collectors have received relief goods from the people in their neighborhood — a small gesture of gratitude for their continuing their service amidst the pandemic.

The community quarantine is still in effect in many areas of Luzon. Everything still remains uncertain and public health and safety are still at risk. 

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But just the same, Michael will still collect garbage and clean up the streets of Cabanatuan even after the quarantine. Despite the risk, as a Christian, he finds comfort in the words of the Almighty written in the Bible.

“Let’s stay inside our homes. Let’s sacrifice so that Covid-19 will no longer spread.”

“I can’t leave my colleagues in this battle. Who am I not to engage?” — Jovic Bermas, front-line nurse, Covid-19 survivor

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The hospital operates 24/7.

It sits in the innermost part of London, England. With about 360 beds and an untainted history older than the two world wars of the 20th century, it is regarded as one of the major medical facilities in Europe.

It has two zones: green and red. The green zone handles various conditions; the red zone is purely for Covid-19 cases. This zoning system was only introduced when a number of the hospital’s health professionals have been tested positive for Covid-19 in the past two months. One of them is Jovic De Leon Bermas, a Filipino.

Jovic is in his fifth year working in the hospital, and in that span of time, he confessed that he has never seen a catastrophe like the Covid-19 pandemic. The 33-year old senior emergency room nurse said that the news of a strange infection — reported as a cluster of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, Hubei Province, in China — reached his facility’s awareness in January this year. The news was not taken seriously, a reaction similar with the initial reaction of other countries. By the end of February, the number of suspected Covid-19 patients in the hospital increased exponentially. But still, he was not alarmed.

There was no personal protective equipment (PPE) then. Guidelines and policies were set up, but were not strictly observed. He followed his routine just like his colleagues. Triage patients. Noted down complaints. Chest pain? UTI? Abdominal pain? Severe headache? Past medical history. Nature of symptoms. Medications taken. Vital signs. 

March 21, Saturday. After toiling a 12-hour shift, Jovic was greeted by low grade fever with gastrointestinal difficulties. Sore throat. Headache. Muscle and joint pain. He also had sleeping troubles.

He was shivering the whole night even if the heater was on full blast and his thick, smooth duvet covered him.

“I was frightened. I was puzzled about what might happen next.”

He wondered how he got infected. As a tenured nurse who works in the emergency department pictured with a relentless influx of suspected Covid-19 patients, one would assume he got the virus while on duty.

He cried. So hard.

He had no relatives in London. Curled up, he thought about his family, his colleagues, his boss, his brethren in the church. How would they react?  He was horrified, unable to process the gravity of the situation.

That night, in a little room just three minutes away by foot from his workplace, he pondered on his life, his fate. Alone.

Since he had normal breathing patterns and no shortness of breath, he self-quarantined. He did not leave his room.

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Day 2. On top of the symptoms which had manifested on Day 1, his body temperature for the second day reached 39 degrees Celsius. He was shivering. He had colds. He stayed in his bed all day.

Day 3. He experienced intermittent fever. He started to lose some of his vital senses: smell and taste. Consequently, he lost his appetite. However, he forced himself to eat to regain strength and for his body to absorb the nourishment and boost his immune system. But he was still lethargic.

Day 4. Jovic was able to successfully work on some simple tasks without putting much strain on his body. His upper back was sore. He had to work on semi-Fowler’s position where the upper body is elevated to 45 degrees. There were traces of improvements on his condition. Even so, he gave in to the invitation of his bed. His sleeping pattern had been disturbed. He slept for four hours, at best.

On April 2, the 12th day of his self-isolation, he got his nose and throat swabbed by UK health workers for his Covid-19 test.

Two days later, he received a message. “I’ve tried to call you but haven’t been able to get hold of you. I hope you’re starting to feel better. Your swab has come back positive for Covid-19.” 

Yes. Positive. Written in bold letters.

Jovic didn’t feel anything when he got the result. He expected it. He prepared for it. The test, he thought, was just a mechanism to make it official, for doubts to subside, for the process of acceptance to begin.

Naturally, when he informed his family and friends through chat and video calls of his sorry state during his first week of self-quarantine, everyone was filled with emotions. They cried. They worried. They wished they were with him. They asked him to resign and to just return home. But he downplayed their request.

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“I can’t leave my colleagues in this battle. If everyone’s scared, who will take care of the sick? What if my loved ones become ill? Will the health workers just give up on them because of the strange climate we’re in? There are those who have already retired but are now courageously manning the frontlines to help, to contribute, to be part of the solution. Who am I not to engage?”

He didn’t report to work for 28 days. During his isolation period, he was assisted by his best friend Gisele, a Filipina nurse, for his everyday needs. She cooked sinigang (pork and vegetables cooked in tamarind-based broth), adobo, (pork or chicken that is steeped and cooked in soy sauce and vinegar) and other meals for him, prepared lemon tea with honey and ginger, and bought fresh apples, bananas, and clementines for snacks. For fever and pain, he took paracetamol. To stop the virus from multiplying, he opted for zinc fortified with copper, vitamin C, and Carcetin (powerful bioflavonoids). He also welcomed the advice of getting high doses of vitamin C via IV injection or drip since he was trained to do the procedure.

To keep his spirits high, for weeks, he religiously watched the live broadcast of Kuya Daniel Razon and Bro. Eli Soriano on Instagram and YouTube through KDR TV. In the program, Kuya Daniel interviewed medical doctors and experts to heighten the public’s awareness on the intricacies, extent, and projections of Covid-19. Bro. Eli, as one of the speakers, provided biblical truths for the viewers to understand God’s message about pestilences and plagues, and why crises like Covid-19 happen to humanity.

His faith in God kept him afloat in those trying times. He said that like the morning sun, the verse Philippians 4:6-7 reverberates with rays of hope in his being: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

As of this writing, the United Kingdom has more than 165,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and more than 26,000 reported deaths. The hospital where Jovic works has registered 89 casualties because of the infection. In the whole of the UK, 100 health workers have lost their lives due to the virus.

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Now that he has fully recovered and has returned to work, Jovic is enraptured to perform his duty as a nurse again, now that the hospital’s leadership has made some key decisions and adjustments in handling Covid-19 cases. He simply cannot find it in his heart to abandon the oath he took, his colleagues who have been with him through thick and thin, and the opportunity to show love and compassion to others. He hopes that by doing his job with sincerity and dedication, God will show him mercy and guard over his loved ones who are miles away.

The soon-to-be convalescent plasma donor, front-liner, and Covid-19 survivor has this to say:

“I would like the public to know that all patients who will be going to the green zone during my shift will be served as best as I can while observing safe distancing. I will look after them like they are family. And if there is a need for me to go to the red zone — with full personal protective equipment on — I will, without a doubt, say yes.”

Editor’s Note: Bro. Jovic requested the editorial staff not to disclose the name of the hospital where he is working.


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