WE saw a decline in new Covid-19 cases in the last couple of weeks, as the reproduction rate fell below 1.0 again. This is good news for the country and the economy, thanks to the preventive efforts of the government. We need to sustain this gain by strengthening our health-related measures, while safely reopening the economy so that workers can return to their jobs.
Balancing health and the economy is not a question of which is more important. Both are essential, and we just need to find a better solution than locking down the economy. My suggestion remains the same. We need to invest more in health care, now.
Quarantine restrictions are just a temporary solution that should not be prolonged to the disadvantage of millions of families who depend on daily wages. Some families could survive without going to work for a month, but most Filipinos, especially those without savings, would suffer under the same condition. The government did its best to ease the situation by providing cash aid to more than 20 million families in the NCR Plus.
Economic growth in the first quarter will likely remain subdued mainly because of the baseline effect, coming from the pre-pandemic performance in January and February 2020 and prior to the national lockdown that the government began to enforce in March last year.
We will most likely see a positive gross domestic product growth in the second quarter, but this will largely reflect the rebound from the sharp 16.5-percent contraction in the same quarter of 2020. If we could sustain the reopening of the economy throughout this year, the recovery from the 2020 slump would continue in the third and fourth quarters.
A return to pre-pandemic level is only possible by 2022, on the assumption that we can prevent another surge in the Covid-19 transmission rate. The spike in April taught us that we should not lower our guard and we should continue to follow health protocols at home, in work places and public areas at all times.
We hope that more vaccines will arrive this year, on top of the 4 million doses that our country already received from China, Russia and the World Health Organization. The arrival of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines from the United States will be crucial to save lives and prevent the spread of coronavirus in our country.
If there is anything that we learned from the pandemic, it is the need to become prepared for any contingency. It highlighted the importance of expanding our health-care facilities to serve our growing population, improving our infrastructure to keep the flow of goods moving despite disruptions and making our communities and homes safer.
It also means we need to rethink urban development. Metro Manila is so crowded that a community transmission can quickly become an outbreak and overwhelm existing medical facilities. We need to build communities with wider spaces, better ventilation and cleaner air outside the National Capital Region. This is why it is important that transport infrastructures such as toll roads and railways are developed to connect these communities to places of work in the cities.
We have to consider that the Philippine population now exceeds 110 million, making it one of the most populous countries in the world. Many of our workers, entrepreneurs and students congregate in urban areas like Metro Manila, resulting in high population density that is not sustainable in the long term.
Upgrading our health-care facilities and infrastructure projects will be important in our economic rebound. The National Economic and Development Authority itself said that such recovery would entail the effective management of Covid-19 risks to empower individuals and companies to thrive in the new normal.
The agency unveiled a three-pronged strategy to accelerate job creation. It includes safely reopening the economy while strictly adhering to public health protocols, implementing the recovery package and ensuring the timely implementation of the vaccine program to cover the entire adult population.
We should also continue massive testing and contact tracing. Along with vaccination, these efforts will allow the Filipino workers to safely return to their jobs without putting the health of their families at risk.
At the same time, we recognize the efforts of medical doctors and research groups such as OCTA for providing helpful reminders and accurate analysis of the situation. We have to watch these important numbers—the reproduction rate and active Covid-19 cases—to ensure they remain manageable.
The OCTA Research Group, in fact, predicts that daily cases in Metro Manila will likely drop below 3,000 this week if the reproduction number stabilizes from 0.8 to 0.9. The lower figure would mean less overwhelmed hospitals.
I also believe the private sector should explore the opportunities in the health sector. We need more local investments in the production of vaccines, medicines, oxygen tanks, personal protective equipment, face masks and other medical paraphernalia. A shortage of these essential items is the last thing we need.
By enabling our health-care sector to better respond to the health crisis, we can avoid shackling the economy that further alienates the poor. I agree with Neda Secretary Karl Chua when he said “we can’t be in MECQ for the entire year.”
What we need is to reinforce our health-related efforts led by vaccination program to protect our people and enable them to do their job of supporting the economy.
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