The road to normalcy is getting closer and closer. The World Health Organization has recently declared an end to Covid-19 as a global public health emergency.
Although WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus believes the virus is here to stay, the agency lowered the alarm because of the pandemic’s downtrend, with immunity increasing after more than 13.3 billion vaccine doses were administered worldwide.
In the Philippines, the recent uptick in weekly cases is not considered by the Department of Health as a cause for alarm. Authorities, nonetheless, encouraged people to wear face masks in highly-congested public places, such as transport terminals and wet markets, and continue observing health protocols like staying home when not feeling well and constantly washing our hands.
Despite the lingering concern over Covid, we should be grateful that we survived the past three years of the pandemic and are now close to restoring our pre-pandemic way of life.
We thank the Lord for giving us the opportunity to rebuild our community and economy and learn the lessons from the past. It taught us to become more health conscious, protect our environment and respect individual space. This should reflect the way we build our homes, offices, parks and infrastructure so that we can breathe fresh air all the time. And encourage us to establish more hospitals and clinics in every community, making healthcare a priority sector in our economic development.
Our recent experience reminds us that there is a better way of controlling the disease than locking down our borders and closing economic activities, which could heavily affect the poor particularly those who were self-employed. We paid a heavy toll because of the mobility restrictions in 2020, 2021 and first half of 2022, although we could not blame anybody because of the lack of vaccine at that time. We resorted to extreme measures because we were in a moment of panic and we wanted to survive.
Aware of the repercussions of imposing extreme restrictions on the economy, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said there is no need to restore emergency status in the country as “we are already on normal footing.”
As Covid cases begin to rise again, we should avoid pressing the panic button and waste the economic recovery efforts we made since the second half of 2022. Our economy has been steadily improving since then, thanks to the lifting of mobility restrictions and the opening of all economic sectors, including education, entertainment and tourism.
We have partly recovered millions of tourism jobs lost to the pandemic in the past three years, and a full recovery is expected in the next year or two. We could easily attract more than 10 million international visitors once new airports open and more infrastructure projects, hotels and resorts are completed. These projects will generate millions of additional jobs for our young labor force.
I support the Department of Tourism’s stance of no stricter travel rules despite rising Covid cases in the country, especially as minimum health protocols remain in place for tourism establishments.
I agree with the DOT’s plan to transform the Philippines into a “tourism powerhouse.” International visitor arrivals in the country hit the 2-million mark as of May 12, 2023. Most tourists came from South Korea, the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, China, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Singapore and Malaysia.
DOT Secretary Christina Frasco says “we are at the cusp of the massive success of tourism in the Philippines.” I share her optimism, based on the number of new hotels and resorts rising all over the Philippines.
New five-star hotels are being constructed in Metro Manila and in other parts of the country, thanks to a vibrant domestic tourism sector, as more Filipinos can now afford plane tickets and good-quality accommodation. They also support local businesses by dining at restaurants and shopping at malls and other retail establishments spread across the nation.
The good news is there is still room for improvement. Prior to the pandemic, we received 8.2 million foreign visitors and generated $9.3 billion in tourism receipts in 2019. It helped us stabilize our balance of payments, support the gross international reserves and manage our foreign exchange rate. This year, the DOT is looking at 4.8 million arrivals, or a little over half of our pre-pandemic capacity.
Tourism, in my opinion, will allow us to achieve faster economic growth in the future. It already contributed to the 6.4-percent expansion of the gross domestic product in the first quarter of 2023. In fact, our gross national income, or formerly known as GNP, expanded at a much faster rate of 9.9 percent in the first quarter, as net primary income from the rest of the world jumped 81.2 percent during the period.
The end of the health emergency will hopefully lift this sector as a growth driver and help the Philippines attain its potential as a tourism powerhouse.
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