Merry Christmas, Indeed!
We have more reasons to be thankful for this Christmas, and one of them is our improving health situation compared to the previous year’s. Thanks to the massive vaccination and observance of health protocols, we can celebrate the occasion safely with our family in a more festive setting.
More people are back on the streets and to their workplaces. This is evident in the Christmas rush and heavy traffic along Edsa and other major roads. People have greater confidence to complete their shopping list, while many businesses are on their way to recovery.
While the pre-pandemic economic levels may only be achieved by 2022 or 2023, the hectic business activities in the fourth quarter point to a strong growth. The Department of Finance and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas believe that a 7-percent gross domestic product expansion is likely in this quarter.
Much of the robust expansion is attributable to the government’s success in containing the virus and the cooperation of everyone. More Filipinos are recuperating from Covid-19 in December than those getting fresh infections. Active cases have gone down to less than 10,000, marking the lowest level in 18 months. If the trend continues, along with massive vaccination, we would probably be in a much, much better place by next year.
The government deserves a pat on the back for a job well done. We also commend the Filipino people for being compliant with health protocols. We have not heard of any group in the country opposing the mandatory wearing of face masks or the vaccination program.
We cannot lower our guard, though. The Omicron variant is now in the Philippines, after being detected in two international passengers. The good news is that the variant is not as deadly as feared, with a South African study concluding that while the mutation may be more resistant to vaccine, it actually causes less severe illness than other strains. Other studies may have different conclusions, though.
As the health situation improves, the economy heals. Our gross domestic product rebounded 7.1 percent in the third quarter and would likely sustain the growth level in the fourth quarter to bring our full-year expansion in 2021 to above 5 percent.
Our economic managers have expressed optimism the gross domestic product would return to pre-pandemic levels by 2022. The threat of new Covid-19 variants may persist in the short term, but I believe the economy is gaining strength to offset possible Covid-19 spikes in the future and accommodate further reopening under alert level 1 starting in January next year.
The Asian Development Bank itself is impressed on how the Philippines is managing the economy and the pandemic at the same time. It just revised its 2021 growth forecast for the Philippines to 5.1 percent from 4.5 percent, and the 2022 growth outlook to 6.0 percent from 5.5 percent.
The stepped-up vaccination program has allowed the economy to slowly reopen, boosting consumer and business confidence. Other parts of Asia are also doing well in managing the pandemic’s rise. The vaccination rates have increased across the region in recent months, with nearly half of the population fully protected against Covid-19 as of end-November, compared with less than a third in August. The increased vaccination rate has enabled many economies to start reopening, resulting in increased manufacturing activity and trade in the region.
If we grow faster in 2022, the National Economic and Development Authority predicts the Philippines will be on its way to becoming an upper-middle income country. I share Neda’s optimism. To make this possible, we need to speed up the pace of vaccination further, especially in the provinces, maintain health protocols, including the mask mandate and social distancing measures, and allow more workers to return to work.
While we should remain cautious amid the lingering threat of the virus, we have greater reasons to be optimistic and greet one another a Merry Christmas!