Don’t be like Koko

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    I REMEMBER a time when Aquilino Martin Pimentel III, known by his nickname Koko, was hailed as a promising young politician. Benefitting from the good name of his father Nene, a senator before him, the bar topnotcher found his entry into political life smoother than others.

    The younger Pimentel found himself in hot water last week when it was announced that he had tested positive for the dreaded COVID-19. Instead of sympathy, Koko outraged anybody within hearing distance when he revealed that he had broken his “de facto isolation” to bring his pregnant wife to the Makati Medical Center, and entered the delivery room complex to wait for her. He says that he was unaware of his test results and only found out when they were already at the hospital, after which he made a hurried exit.

    Ordinarily, people would not raise an eyebrow at a husband being with his expectant wife at such a time. But ordinary circumstances do not apply, given the fact that Koko had himself tested for COVID-19 prior to this, because of his exposure to another COVID-19 positive patient. Despite knowledge of exposure, he continued to flout the rules, refused to go into self-quarantine, and endangered the life of his own wife and unborn child, as well as those around them.

    What made matters worse is that Pimentel attended two birthday parties despite knowing that he might be a carrier of the dreaded virus. By his own admission, he attended a meeting on March 9, and two parties on March 10 and 11. A popular grocery chain, alarmed by rumors that Pimentel visited one of their branches, scoured its CCTV footage and found that he had indeed gone to their BGC store. So, in addition to endangering the lives of our frontliners working at MMC, his family, and his co-workers, he also placed an unthinkable number of people in harm’s way. Such reckless and self-centered behavior coming from a government official.

    “No one imposed a quarantine on me,” he whined in an interview. Does it take much thinking to conclude that one is a possible carrier after exposure? Of course not. I doubt that Pimentel is lacking in smarts — he certainly has the paperwork to dispute that — but in my mind, what was lacking here is a compassionate regard for the welfare of others.

    What raised my hackles about this entire debacle was the fact that Pimentel traipsed around the metro despite knowing he could possibly be infected by COVID-19. He admitted to having experienced symptoms, but still went on painting the town red. The case of the town of Westford, Connecticut came to mind. As reported by the New York Times, around 50 people attended a party thrown by a well-heeled host on March 5. Unbeknownst to the guests, one of them already had COVID-19.

    Westford had no known COVID-19 cases on the day of the gathering. However, half of the party guests had already contracted the disease. One guest flew back to South Africa, carrying COVID-19 with him. Westford registered 85 positive cases after only 11 days. That’s an exponential jump, and a scary one. For now, we can only hope that Pimentel did not manage to do a Westford here in Metro Manila.

    We are into Week 3 of the community quarantine. There is still much uncertainty about coming out on the better side of this. Already we are hearing of relatives of friends and acquaintances falling victim to the virus. Identified cases in the Philippines continue to rise by the day, reflective of the much-delayed ramping up of testing done by the authorities. Let’s hope that those in government continue to do more in terms of finding out how widespread COVID-19 truly is within our communities. Let’s continue to support our frontliners who save every life they can, and for our essential workers who keep this machine running.

    For now, the best attitude we can all take is to act as if you already have the virus and you don’t want to infect those around you. Sneeze or cough into the bend of your elbow. Wash your hands properly, many times a day. Stay at home as much as you can. Keep a safe distance from others in case you have to go out. Let’s keep each other safe. When in doubt, don’t be like Koko.