The Delta variant just dashed the hope that a global economic recovery would begin two years into the pandemic. While most of the opinions expressed have been about pandemic response, both good and bad, the no one has dared to point out the elephant in the room that is the only clear path to putting an end to the pandemic; increased vaccine supplies. Viruses mutate continuously while circulating. That is a fact. Yet rich countries continue to prioritize their own population for vaccination. This year we have seen how COVID-19 has ravaged South America, Brazil and Peru, in particular in that region. India has suffered worse than Brazil with record cases and deaths.
The same is being replicated now in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly Indonesia, which is passing India’s numbers. Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, are all enforcing lockdowns in a bid to contain the spread of Delta. But this is hard to do considering this variant is 1,260 times more contagious and has a shorted incubation period. The first community transmission was confirmed in the country on Thursday evening. Just as everyone thought it was safe to reopen, it is not again.
Filipinos have been grappling with uncertainty since the Luzon lockdown took effect. That prevented a heavy first wave but complacency caught up in March when cases spiked fueled by the UK variant. Healthcare capacity was strained but not to the point that people were dying on the streets. It was nowhere near the catastrophe that befell India and, now, Indonesia. The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) still does not have a uniform contact-tracing system in place. There is no adherence to the 3Ts; test trace and treat. By the time the surge was contained in NCR+, another spike began in the regions. New cases haven’t fallen below 3,000 on a daily basis since March.
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While the government has passed key legislation charting the path to economic recovery, the mindset is still that COVID-19 can be beaten. Unfortunately, this will not happen while majority of the global population remains unvaccinated. The virus will continue to mutate. Rich countries cornered vaccine supplies last year after the pharmaceutical companies announced a breakthrough in vaccine development. The equitable distribution of vaccines under the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) Covax facility largely went for naught because supply was short. The rich countries stockpiled vaccines good for three times their populations. It was inevitable that we would come to this point again.
Singapore has been more pragmatic in its approach. Their mindset is now Covid is endemic. The government is taking measures for its citizens and the economy to transition to the new normal. The Philippines should do the same. Our work is cut out for us because the government has no digitization plan in place. Connectivity is an issue even in the National Capital Region and its outskirts (NCR+). What more in the regions?
For economic recovery to begin, there is the need for disruptive reforms in both the public and private sector. The Luzon lockdown put in focus the underdevelopment of the regions. This makes the 2022 election crucial because clear platforms of action need to be presented by candidates running for office. The economy, education and public health are the main issues the public deems as having the highest impact in their daily lives since the pandemic began.
The Opposition is constantly haranguing the government for social amelioration and stimulus when it is hard-pressed to increase revenue collection in the midst of the recession caused by the pandemic. Infrastructure development is better because it generates employment and economic activities. The so-called economic experts just want to agitate the poor so they can win them over their side in time for the election.
The Delta variant is a serious threat not only to the economy but also the citizenry. It falls upon us to take the necessary precautions. We should be united as a nation in facing the challenges posed by the pandemic and finding solutions. Divisiveness will not get us anywhere. The President has been appealing for unity since he won in 2016. This has fallen on the deaf ears of the Opposition. Think about it. Why would they still hold protest rallies on Monday when the President delivers his final State of the Nation Address (SONA) given the health risks?
The public should realize that divisions only serve to worsen the situation. Instead of criticisms, it’s best if out-of-the-box solutions are proposed instead. This is the only way to move forward and minimize the element of uncertainty that each and every Filipino is dealing with at present.
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