My Cautiously Optimistic Outlook
Recent health and economic indicators make me cautiously optimistic about our recovery. I say cautiously because the pandemic still lingers in many countries including the Philippines, yet optimistic because the lifting of some economic restrictions will allow more Filipinos to earn a living.
A semblance of normalcy is emerging in Metro Manila, once the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country that has managed to bring down the number of daily new cases substantially over the past few weeks.
Credit goes to the massive vaccination program approaching 90 percent of the target population in the capital region, which even exceeds the government’s forecast and the actual rate in many advanced countries. The Department of Health reported that fully vaccinated individuals in Metro Manila reached over 8.6 million as of last week or 88 percent of the target population.
The vaccination rate in the provinces, though, lags with only about 30 percent, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to castigate local government units outside of Metro Manila for their slow utilization of available vaccines. About 110 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have arrived in the country this year, which means we have ample supply to ramp up the rollout and achieve the target of inoculating 70 percent or 77 million of the eligible population.
Active Covid-19 cases nationwide fell below 40,000 last week and the numbers are expected to sustain the downtrend if the virus reproduction rate does not exceed 1.0. Just in August and early September, the active cases reached nearly 200,000 that filled most hospitals in the National Capital Region. The declining trend means the Covid-19 vaccines work.
These numbers encouraged the Inter-Agency Task Force and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority to further ease economic restrictions, such as the full lifting of curfew hours in the Metro Manila, the increase in allowable capacity for mass transit and public transport to 70 percent, and the opening of local tourism destinations, including hotels and resorts, to visitors.
I am likewise pleased with the early decision of the government to place Metro Manila under the more lenient Alert Level 2 from Alert Level 3 starting Friday. The lower alert level will now allow most businesses to operate and restaurants to increase the capacity of allowed diners.
The easing of quarantine measures is expected to help our economy recover from the devastating impact of the health crisis and enable more of our people to resume their livelihood. Remember that at the height of the pandemic in April and May last year, we shut down 75 percent of our economy. So any leeway to businesses at this point would be most helpful to our entrepreneurs and our workers.
However, I believe that we should remain cautious and continue to follow health protocols such as the wearing of face masks outside our homes and the sustained vaccination of the general population, including minors. We may also begin to consider providing booster shots soon to our health workers, senior citizens and the vulnerable population who received their second vaccine doses over six months ago.
A sustained vaccine rollout may further lower the country’s daily Covid-19 cases to 2,000. The Philippines actually registered 1,591 on November 3, the lowest single-day tally in eight months or since February 24.
Health experts attribute the decline in new infections to increased vaccination coverage and the low positivity rate, or the proportion of people who test positive using RT-PCR, and low daily attack rate or the percentage of the at-risk population that contracts Covid-19.
The ultimate measure that will show the government’s confidence in containing the pandemic, of course, is the opening of physical classrooms. Hopefully, this will happen next year, although pilot tests will begin in November this year covering a small number of schools.
No less than the National Economic and Development Authority expressed concern over the impact of the prolonged closure of schools on our productivity and talent supply in the future. Per Neda’s estimate, the health crisis will cost the economy P41.4 trillion over the next 40 years in terms of lost or reduced wages and lower productivity.
But I believe we can avert the lost opportunity by fortifying our economy ahead of the full reopening. The completion of several infrastructure projects in recent months, for one, will help us take advantage of the growing global trade. Government infrastructure spending jumped to P282 billion as of the second quarter of 2021 from P170 billion a year ago. The higher spending allowed us to resume economic activities, particularly trade.
With our macro-economic fundamentals intact despite the pandemic challenges, I remain sanguine about our prospects as a nation.