Surviving the Health Crisis
Reopening the economy and keeping Covid-19 at bay have been done before. The past one-and-a-half years have taught us that we can live with the virus and at the same time continue working by gradually reopening the economy to be able to feed our families.
Such coexistence is exemplified by the latest results of the Labor Force Survey, where the unemployment rate dropped to 6.9 percent in July—the lowest since the start of the pandemic last year.
The encouraging labor figures support our growth prospects, along with the accelerated deployment of vaccines, aggressive infrastructure development and the continued push for vital economic reforms. Other indicators strongly suggest the economy has turned a corner, with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas citing the improvement in the purchasing manager’s index, which is a barometer of the manufacturing sector. The re-imposition of lockdown measures in March, April and August, however, could ultimately dampen overall growth in 2021.
We should note that the improvement in the labor statistics took place before the government placed Metro Manila in August under the enhanced community quarantine—the strictest form of lockdown. This only shows how a general lockdown affects the economy and the lives of millions of Filipino workers.
We need to survive the health and economic crises, and try to live with the virus because it is not going to dissipate soon. Time and again, we have to recalibrate our strategy in dealing with the problem and protecting the economy as well.
There is no question about the widespread infection, with Covid-19 cases in the Philippines exceeding 2.1 million as of last week, resulting in more than 34,000 deaths. Active cases were in excess of 150,000. The Philippines reached these alarming numbers despite repeated lockdowns of the economy and the closure of schools for more than a year.
In an ideal situation, the pandemic can be contained if most of our population are fully vaccinated, if we have an effective anti-viral drug aside from the vaccine, if reliable home-based Covid-19 test kits are available and if everyone strictly observes health protocols.
In reality, we should learn to treat everyone else as a potential carrier of the virus by putting our face mask and face shield on whenever we leave our homes to work, go to school or buy necessities.
We should also aim for a faster pace of vaccination, like a rate of a million doses a day. So far, less than 15 percent of our population is fully vaccinated, and most of them are in Metro Manila.
About 52.3 percent of the 9.8 million target population in Metro Manila have received two doses of the vaccine as of September 8, per the report of vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. Around 81.7 percent or 8 million individuals got their first dose.
Meanwhile, we should encourage pharmaceutical and technology companies to develop products such as reliable home-based test kits for Covid-19, an anti-viral drug on top of vaccines and medical-grade face masks that are affordable. This should be our proactive way of adjusting to the crisis.
We should not address the health problem by creating another serious dilemma—which is locking down the economy and depriving millions of uninfected Filipinos of their rightful access to work, business and income. Unless the government has enough money to support all their needs, we should allow them to contribute to the economy and pay taxes to the government.
It is the labor force and the economy that should provide revenues to the government—ideally representing a fifth of the gross domestic product. A general lockdown transfers the burden of supporting the economy and the population to the government, which is being forced to borrow money. The borrowing option has already expanded the public debt to P11.6 trillion as of July this year.
The government announced that Metro Manila will remain under the modified enhanced community quarantine until September 15, before shifting to general community quarantine with an alert level system.
Metro Manila mayors are threshing out the details of the pilot GCQ with an alert level system, including the criteria and threshold levels for declaring a specific area under the granular lockdown. The alternative system is expected to handle the coronavirus problem better and support the economy at the same time.
The government hopes that granular lockdowns, along with the heightened implementation of Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat, and Reintegrate + Vaccinate, or the PDITR+V strategy, will stop the spread of the virus, while bringing back jobs lost to blanket restrictions.
With some experts now convinced that Covid-19 may become endemic, we need to adjust our strategy and focus on how to manage the risks and live with the coronavirus. We owe it to the next generation. Our youth, especially the young children, should not experience hunger—and should have access to proper education and health care. They deserve better.