I travelled to the United States for a business trip. It was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. But when I left Manila, the scare has just started. I was hesitant to travel but I thought in this modern time, brilliant scientists and those in medical field will find cure immediately.
With everything in place, I packed my bags, hand sanitizers, masks vitamins and I was off to the airport. I was with a colleague so things were easier. I have a companion who frequents US so I was comfortable. Atmosphere at NAIA was a bit cautious but still almost normal. There were still fair amount of travelers. A lot are already wearing protective masks. Upon arrival at Los Angeles airport, that’s where things get interesting. Unlike in Manila, there were fewer people wearing masks. People looked more relaxed. We felt weird that we were tempted not to use masks as well since we might look a bit over acting for them. Then we realized maybe the information about the COVID-19 hasn’t reached the same level back home.
Because our stay was for few weeks, we were asked millions of questions about the purpose of the visit. What’s worse, we were held in a room filled with people coming from the place were the virus started. After hours of waiting and arguing with the immigration officers, we were allowed to enter America.
Everything was perfect. Our colleagues on the other part of the world, as well as our clients welcomed us warmly. Everything seemed normal. We tried different cuisines and visited touristy spots. Until our travel plans going to nearby places are being cancelled. We planned to visit Houston then San Antonio or Dallas. But as we monitor the news, there were more and more people being affected by the Covid-19. Each State now is preparing for the outbreak and reporting fatalities day by day. Until the WHO declared Covid-19 as pandemic and flights were being cancelled everywhere, borders being closed.
We tried to stay calm but every day the situation is getting worse. Our company decided to cut short our trip. My change in itinerary along with colleagues from another Asian country were expedited and our flights moved to earlier date. My companion from Manila will stay as planned since she is scheduled to meet a family member in another state before going home. This means I am going home alone.
Days leading to our flight was full of tension. We were still working full time but our US office is already preparing for the work from home arrangement. Then the whole Manila was placed under locked down. Then the whole of Luzon. Confusion builds if there will still be flights to and from the Philippines. Number of death cases in Italy is rising tremendously. Every leaders calling for press conference reminding everyone to wash hands, avoid crowds and observe social distancing.
For the first time, Catholics were relieved from physically attending Sunday Mass obligations. Masses were now held via online. Malls and schools shutting down. Too many things happening all at the same time.
After much confusion whether international flights are still allowed in Manila or not, the company informed me that I can still fly home. On the day of the flight, for the first time I felt anxious the same level I felt when I was about to take the bar exams. It was terrifying. Maybe because of all the emotions building up from the days leading to this. From the many decisions, thinking of possible consequences of every actions and the day to day change of the situation in the US and Manila regarding travel arrangements, lockdown etc.
My flight was 9am. But because I was anticipating safety precautions being undertaken in the airport, which means longer queue, I left our rented apartment by 6am. Maybe the driver sense my anxiousness as both of us was quiet the entire 20 minutes of our trip to the airport. Just like in the movies, it was still dark and I was staring out of the window anticipating, contemplating and praying. Sometimes, I was out of my mind that simple details asked I cannot answer. An airport personnel needed to assist me in my checking in. I realized then that I have to be strong, presence of mind is needed if I want to arrive safely. I lost count how many times I wash my hands, applied alcohol, to be safe than sorry. My first flight was deserted. The passengers I guess were just around 10 to 20 people. My connecting flight to Manila via PAL has more passengers but still nearly half of the seats were empty. The passengers were asked many times from the US airports details of our trip for contact tracing purposes just in case we have or develop any symptoms.
Upon landing at NAIA, it took a while before we were asked to leave the plane. The reason was that airport personnel were making sure that from the immigration area to the carousel for bags were clear from unnecessary crowd. We were then allowed to go out of the plane. From immigration to the luggage area went as a breeze.
Prior to my trip back, my office already arranged my transportation from NAIA to the hotel where I will spend 14 days of self-quarantine. This was a good call since there were only few taxis which are operational. I reached the hotel safely. It was a good thing that my hotel was pre-boooked since hotels were also mandated not to accept guests due to the pandemic.
I am grateful that I was able to travel back to Manila despite the pandemic. I pray that this virus which has affected everyone in the world will end very soon so that we can go back to our normal lives. As they say, every cloud has a silver lining, even the worst situations in life have some positive effects. Hence, let us not forget the lessons and reflections that this pandemic taught us, there is nothing more important in life than family and the people we love. Unity of the nation is the strongest hold for us to be certain in times of uncertainty. And that, home will always be a sweet place for us to be safe.