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Groundhog Day

We seem to be caught in an unending Groundhog Day-like cycle of surges and lockdowns. We would experience a surge in new daily COVID-19 cases — similar to the one that hit us around March and April this year when daily cases reached a high of 15,280 — then we would react and impose stricter restrictions on the population. Cases would go down, the government will ease restrictions (the IATF even allowed children outside at one point only to rescind the order) then back to the cycle again.


It’s frustrating because we all want to go back to our normal lives, or, thanks to this virus, live in the “new normal.” But these surges keep disrupting our lives. And they are not minor disruptions. Every time restrictions are tightened because of an increase in daily cases businesses suffer. Micro and small businesses, in particular, are vulnerable to external shocks such as financial crises, disasters, and forced changes in the business environment.


And people might think that MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises), because they are not as big as their more established counterparts, have little impact in the economy. They are wrong. MSMEs are the backbone of our economy accounting for 99.5 percent of businesses and 63.2 percent of employed Filipinos. And so when an external shock happens, like a pandemic that forces government to issue stay-at-home order, MSMEs are the hardest hit.


While it is important to implement strategies in order to address a surge — in this recent case the cause is the potential spread of the Delta variant which is said to be more transmissible than the rest of the virus’ mutations — government needs to balance its approach. I have been saying this over and over: This pandemic is both a public health disaster and an economic crisis. Even when we get this virus under control we still have to deal with an economy that has lost its momentum and is currently sputtering. The impact of our people’s livelihood, well-being and our ability to provide resources to fight another pandemic will be seriously undermined. We need a balanced approach.


And so when government heightens restrictions, limits capacity of businesses, or even imposes curfew hours, they need to understand that these measures will have a negative impact on small businesses. Delivery of products and services will be delayed, supply chains disrupted and demand will fall. This will severely affect sales and revenues and the ability of MSMEs to pay their employees and even their ability to continue to operate.


I know that it is a difficult balancing act for government. They are constantly being hit by critics who disapprove of the way they have handled the pandemic and at the same time facing the prospects of an economic crisis. To be fair, government has been steadily increasing our supply of vaccines which appears to be the silver bullet that we need to end this nightmare.


Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the other day that “the total we are expecting to receive this year is 171 million doses (which is) more than enough to vaccinate the entire adult population of the Philippines.” This is very good news. Despite initial delays, I applaud government in increasing our stockpile of vaccines for our people.


So the job that needs to be done is to finish inoculating all the priority groups. I have suggested in the past that while government can focus on vaccinating all our health workers, senior citizens, and those with comorbidities, it should provide support to allow the private sector to vaccinate its employees.


Once our economic frontliners are fully vaccinated then economic activities can proceed unhampered (following minimum health standards, of course.


In the movie Groundhog Day, the main character found himself reliving the same day over and over again. Every day when he wakes up he goes through the same thing throughout the day. He broke the cycle when he started to mend his ways and became a nicer, better person.


Good news is that we know what good thing to do: vaccinate our people.



Manila Bulletin/Views/MannyVillar