Hardwork Still Ahead of Us
The big contraction in the economy last year, although a foregone conclusion, is a reminder that there is a lot of work ahead for all of us in this time of the pandemic. We should work our way through this health crisis starting with a strategic vaccination plan that is meant to address the root cause of the problem—the Covid-19.
The crisis won’t be resolved overnight. Two countries that have inoculated more than a quarter of their population—Israel and the United Arab Emirates—have yet to see the impact of the vaccination on virus transmission. Hopefully, they could see a rapid decline in cases in the coming weeks, so that other countries like the Philippines would have working models to follow.
Israel continues to remind its citizens to observe health protocols as the threat of Covid-19, particularly the new variants, remains. This means we, too, should be ready to confront any surge in cases and address the virus with proven strategies, such as prevent, detect, isolate and treat, while we are waiting for the vaccine shipments to arrive. For individuals, proven health protocols such as social distancing, wearing of face masks and face shields outdoors, and regular washing of hands should always be observed.
Vaccination will be a long and gradual process. For a country with about 110 million citizens spread across hundreds of islands, the Philippines faces major logistics issues. Fortunately, the private sector is joining the government in addressing the problem.
The Villar Group, through AllHome Corp., is doing its part after signing a deal to secure additional doses of the vaccine as the country prepares for the immunization program. AllHome Corp. has signed a deal with AstraZeneca to purchase Covid-19 vaccines for its employees and for donation to the public.
My group, along with the national government, local government units, and other private sector donors, will deliver 17 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to the country. As I have been writing in this column, the vaccine will not only provide protection from the virus but will also help boost consumer confidence to go out again. It is by helping each other during this time that we can start our journey to economic recovery.
The private sector assistance will be on top of the P72.5 billion allocated by the national government to vaccinate 50 million to 60 million Filipinos. Several LGUs have announced separate budgets for their respective immunization targets. LGUs and the private sector are expected to do their part to provide vaccine doses to at least 10 million Filipinos. Experts believe that 70 million or more than half of our population of 110 million should receive the vaccines to achieve herd immunity.
The good news is that the first batch of more than a million doses is expected to arrive in February. The arrival should cancel the option to lock down most of the country that only caused a deep economic slump in 2020. Targeted restrictions, instead of a blanket lockdown, will ensure that the spread of the virus is contained, without making the whole economy pay for the cost, or else we run the risk of depleting government resources and putting millions of workers out of work again.
To ensure economic recovery, we need to focus on investing in infrastructure projects and strengthening our agriculture sector this year so that we can produce enough food for our population. The pandemic is also taking its toll on the food supply in many countries.
Our GDP, meanwhile, shrank 8.3 percent in the fourth quarter, albeit an improvement from the 11.4-percent decline in the third quarter, the 16.9-percent drop in the second quarter, and the 0.7-percent dip in the first quarter.
The GDP figures, however, clearly show how travel and mobility restrictions have led to the closure of many business establishments. The retail, tourism, and construction sectors did not fare well in the pandemic. They have suffered the worst. Accommodation and food service activities plummeted 42.7 percent, construction was down 25.3 percent, and other services slumped 45.2 percent.
Hotels and resort facilities cannot operate viably amid air travel and local border restrictions. Many of these may have ceased operations. Retail and fast-food outlets are in the same boat simply because many office workers are in their homes instead of going to their workplaces and spending in the malls.
The vaccine rollout, hopefully, will reverse this trend and put us on a solid path to economic recovery. The vaccination program should encourage the government to reopen more sectors and the private companies to increase their investments in the Philippines.