The Economy is a Major Part of the Covid Equation
The Philippines, in a general sense, is in a quandary about how fast it should reopen the economy now that more and more Filipinos have been vaccinated. Many sectors are divided on the issue. But one thing is clear: the economy cannot be hostage forever to the virus.
As a nation, we have learned from experience that we can live with the virus, which will not simply go away, and reopen the economy at the same time. We opted for granular lockdowns to slow down the rise of infections, instead of a general containment of the population that shackled the Philippine economy in recent months.
The selective lockdowns worked —the daily Covid-19 cases have dropped to as low as 3,000 plus last week while more and more Filipinos are joining the labor force amid looser mobility restrictions. The higher vaccination rate allowed our health authorities to reopen the economy, and I see no reason why they should not lower the alert level in Metro Manila from the current alert level 3 to alert level 2.
Authorities, for one, can gradually increase the capacity of public transportation, notably the rail system, to bring more workers to their job sites. Commuters in Japan and Hong Kong have been traveling by train and on public buses with no noticeable spike in Covid-19 cases because they simply observed the health protocol of wearing face masks. The higher vaccination rate in Japan, of course, allowed its public transportation to accommodate more passengers. Japan has fully vaccinated 90.2 million people, or 71.6 percent of its total population.
Metro Manila’s vaccination figures are not that far from Japan’s. About 86 percent of the target population of 70 percent in the capital region, or nearly 7.8 million, have received at least one vaccine dose. The risk of infection, thus, is low among our commuting public in the capital region, if the train ridership is increased from the current 50 percent capacity to 70 percent or higher. The Philippines, to give our readers a perspective, has given at least one jab to 52.3 million Filipinos. About 24.3 million are fully vaccinated, or 22.2 percent of the entire population of 111 million as of Friday last week.
Raising the load of our public transportation, not only in Metro Manila but also in the provinces as well, is in sync with government’s decision to increase the capacity of restaurants and dining places and reopen public parks and tourism destinations. We are easing the plight of our workers and creating more employment opportunities.
The further reopening of the economy through increased capacities in business establishments, especially the small- and medium-scale enterprises, has a direct impact on employment. Per the estimate of the National Economic and Development Authority, shifting to alert level 2 will increase the gross domestic product to P3.6 billion and generate 16,000 more jobs a week. The same estimates show that a shift to alert level 1 from alert level 2 will raise the GDP by another P10.3 billion and further create 43,000 jobs.
Some sectors, including members of the Philippine College of Physicians, meanwhile, fear that the Philippines may face a fourth wave of infections if authorities relax quarantine restrictions too quickly, especially in the capacity of public transportation.
Their apprehensions are not unfounded. Covid-19 cases are spiking in some European countries, notably the UK where the daily infection rate is hitting 40,000 cases despite high vaccination coverage. Russia is recording about the same daily rate, while Ukraine is posting almost 27,000 cases daily. In Asia, Singapore registered 3,432 new cases last Thursday.
The UK is experiencing a spike after its government did away with the mask mandate and because of a new mutation, while Russia lags in vaccination rate.
But the Philippines is not necessarily creating superspreader events through looser restrictions. Local government units can prevent superspreader events and should remain strict in the enforcement of health protocols, like wearing of face masks and social distancing, despite the increasing vaccination rate.
The Philippines has now considered a low-risk nation after the two-week attack rate within Metro Manila fell to 52 percent, while the average daily attack rate dropped to 9.87 percent. The Covid-19 bed utilization rate in the region also declined to 39 percent. All these positive data points to a further reopening of the economy.