Easier Job for the Next President
The next president of the Philippines will have a much easier time than what President Rodrigo Duterte is going through right now. By the time the 17th president of the Republic assumes office sometime in July 2022, the pandemic would most likely be contained and most of the country’s population would have received two doses of Covid-19 vaccine plus booster shots, if approved by regulators.
We don’t need a crystal ball to foresee a much-improved situation in the coming months as our vaccination program sustains its momentum. Daily new Covid-19 cases dropped below the 6,000 mark last week from a high of over 20,000 cases in the first week of September 2021. If the trend continues, the number could further drop to 5,000 or lower by the end of October, per the prediction of the OCTA Research Group.
Other indicators are getting better, including the positivity rate, the average daily attack rate, and the number of active cases, hospital utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate. One of the most closely watched figures—the virus reproduction rate—declined to 0.52 in Metro Manila as of October 19, which means an infected person has a 50-percent chance of preventing the spread of the disease to another person. If we could keep that number below 0.5 until the end of the year, we will have a better Christmas season, as what Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez is hoping for.
We could only surmise that the declining Covid-19 cases was the result of an effective contact tracing efforts that prevented Covid-positive individuals from passing on the virus to others. Another obvious explanation is the rising vaccination rate, especially in Metro Manila—once the epicenter of the outbreak.
About 80 percent of the target population in the National Capital Region has already received two doses of Covid-19 vaccines and the government plans to similarly increase the vaccination rate in the provinces, with the goal of reaching up to 70 percent of the target population by Christmas.
Nationwide, 23.98 million Filipinos or 31 percent of the target population were fully vaccinated as of October 14, according to the National Task Force Against Covid-19. The government is confident of boosting the number in the fourth quarter because it still has 38 million doses in its warehouses.
There is also a global downtrend in daily new cases and daily deaths. Of note is the drastic drop in cases in Southeast Asia, where the more transmissible Delta variant spread like wildfire in August and early September. Nations were quick to roll out vaccination programs that resulted in the timely containment of the outbreak. In Indonesia, for example, the daily new cases fell to less than 1,000 last week from over 50,000 a few months ago.
Let us hope that the trend will continue in the coming months so we can have greater confidence in restarting the new economy, or the new normal, as some people would like to call it. This new economy involves the greater use of digital technologies, sustained observance of health protocols, increased investments in health care and the redesign of spaces such as homes, offices and commercial establishments to prioritize health, safety and the environment.
I believe we should continue increasing our health-care spending, following the 12.6-percent growth in 2020 amid the pandemic. Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority show our current health expenditures reached P895.88 billion in 2020, up 12.6 percent from P795.64 billion in 2019. We need to build more medical facilities to accommodate our growing adult population in the face of various threats to our health.
Aside from the better Christmas season expected this year, declining Covid-19 cases and easing mobility restrictions, the next administration will have a much lighter burden. The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has taken much of the responsibility of addressing the problem, including the vaccination of the population against the virus; provision of cash subsidies, food and medical supplies to millions of poor families, and laying the infrastructure projects needed to ensure our economic recovery from the pandemic.
Our gross domestic product rebounded with 11.8-percent growth in the second quarter and this is expected to continue in the third and fourth quarters. We will return to pre-pandemic growth most likely by 2022 if we continue the reopening of the economy, without losing sight of the lingering threat of the pandemic. We therefore need to keep our masks on until the virus completely disappears.
Minimum health protocols should remain in place while we transition to more relaxed restrictions, such as the Alert Level 3 which is now in effect in Metro Manila. The government also lifted the ban on domestic tourism, while the Metro Manila Council decided to allow minors to travel in private vehicles and public utility vehicles provided their elders accompany them. Outdoor exercises are now allowed for all ages, regardless of co-morbidities or vaccination status.
The implementation of Alert Level System, meanwhile, began in other provinces starting October 20. This system is obviously much better and more targeted than the general lockdown implemented in recent months.
Our next set of leaders will carry on the tasks of guiding us out of the pandemic, but thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the Duterte administration, their job will be much easier.