Innovation is Key to New Normal
The shift to the Alert Level Systems for Covid-19 Response from the Enhanced Community Quarantine went on smoothly in the third week of September, without any significant surge in new infections, contrary to the prediction of several health experts.
It is the government’s more proactive response to addressing the pandemic as it removes fear or panic from the equation. The result is a reduction in new daily cases to below the 20,000 mark. The number of recoveries also exceeded the number of new cases for several days last week, resulting in lower Covid-19 active cases in the country.
The Alert Level Systems, first tested in Metro Manila, is a more innovative and scientific approach that is better than a general lockdown. It allows business establishments to sustain their operations, albeit at a limited capacity and subject to strict health protocols.
Of course, we need to continue to be cautious and follow the mask mandate at all times. We now know that even fully vaccinated individuals may catch the virus, including asymptomatic ones, if directly exposed to infected people. The key is to put on our mask every time we talk to other people, including our close relatives and friends.
The good news is that the pace of vaccination is picking up. More than 40 million vaccine doses were already administered in the country, mostly in the National Capital Region and surrounding areas. We could see a further reduction in new cases if more provinces and cities receive the vaccine doses.
Data from the Department of Health points to a downtrend in active Covid-19 infections in Metro Manila, where the vaccination rate exceeded the 67-percent mark among the target population. The National Task Force (NTF) Against Covid-19 attributed the declining cases to the faster vaccination program.
Now that we have the current data, we can more effectively assess our next steps and not depend on panic or fear. A targeted vaccination campaign will help reduce the outbreak in populous areas with a high virus reproduction rate.
The government expects an additional 22 million doses in the coming weeks. With more vaccine shipments due to arrive, it is time to open the inoculation to the general population. The vaccination so far has been limited to the elderly, people with comorbidities, health and economic frontliners, and the poor. A majority of the population remains unvaccinated, especially the young people who are more mobile and active.
If vaccination sustains its momentum, we may indeed celebrate a “happy Christmas,” as predicted or hoped for by Presidential Adviser on Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion. OCTA Research fellow Guido David added the Philippines may already be seeing “the end game of the Delta variant,” judging from the decline in the infection rate.
But this should not lull us into complacency. Some of the early recipients of the vaccine received their second dose in March, which means they may need booster shots soon. Several vaccine manufacturers, including Moderna, confirmed that the effectivity of the vaccine may be waning over time. Our government should prepare to place orders for booster shots once they become available.
We should use data and innovation to guide our way out of the pandemic and into the new normal. Now that health care became the most dominant need of our society in the past year and a half, we should expand and invest in the sector. In the world’s most livable cities, health care is the biggest employer and economic contributor. It has prepared urban centers well for the Covid-19 pandemic. Investing in health care will allow us to emerge stronger from the global health crisis.
The economic recovery from the 9.6-percent contraction last year won’t happen this year, as the government expects the gross domestic product to grow by at least 4 percent to 5 percent. What will help us to attain full recovery, hopefully by 2022, is innovation. We already started with digital technology, as seen in the dramatic rise of e-commerce, virtual business meetings, hybrid learning modules, work-from-home, and financial technology transactions. If we could spread these new technologies to more economic segments and to more communities, it would help us improve our Global Innovation Index ranking of 51st out of 132 economies.
Results of the Global Innovation Index 2021 show the Philippines is already a leader in high-tech exports (ranked 1st in the world), utility models by origin (8th), creative goods exports (10th) and ICT services exports (13th). The improved ranking implies the Philippines produces more and higher-quality innovation outputs despite limited resources and pandemic-induced setbacks.
With innovation, we can regain our pre-pandemic growth momentum and continue our journey to become an upper-middle-income economy in the new normal.