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It’s Time to Pause

Now is the time for our health experts and authorities to pause. The Philippines has so far successfully managed to contain the spread of Covid-19 and built up more health facilities to accommodate more cases if needed. The government, thus, may now take this opportunity to reopen the economy and restore the jobs of millions of workers.

 

The Philippines is relatively doing well in limiting the pandemic compared with other European countries and the United States, especially New York. Our own virus data, which is used as the basis in imposing quarantine and lockdown measures, are not worse than the other global epicenters of Covid-19. Local health authorities can look at the experiences of Italy, Spain, the UK and the US. The mortality rate in the world is basically the same as ours (the Philippines has actually a lower rate) and our authorities should now look at the other side of the coin—the economy—after bolstering the capacity of our health facilities.

 

Our health authorities should find it comforting that our mortality rate is better than in other countries. The Philippines as of Sunday had a death toll of 603 from nearly 9,000 cases, or a mortality rate of 6.7 percent, compared with Indonesia’s 7 percent. Italy had a worse mortality rate of 13.7 percent, while the UK has 5.2 percent. The US had 5.8 percent, while New York City had 8 percent.

 

To put it in perspective, coronavirus death data on deaths per million in the Philippines is not alarming. Available and official data on the Internet shows the Philippines has 5.65 deaths per 1 million population (from the total population of 106.5 million).

 

The statistics compare much favorably with the US, which has 202.6 deaths per 1 million population from its total population of 327.17 million. European nations have more unfavorable rates. Spain and Italy, the two Covid-19 epicenters in that region, have 537.2 and 475.09 deaths per 1 million population, respectively. The United Kingdom and France have 423.09 and 369.16 deaths per 1 million, respectively.

 

In Asia, South Korea has 4.84 deaths, Japan has 3.75 and Malaysia has 3.27.

 

These are deaths, nonetheless, and each life is important. The data should not make us complacent in our fight against Covid-19, but it gives us solace that we are effectively containing the outbreak based on established statistics.

 

The mortality rates should go down further as more mass testings are conducted. We can now accommodate more people in the hospitals for monitoring suspected Covid-19 cases.

 

A lot of things have happened since the government imposed the enhanced community quarantine on March 14 and extended it to May 15. Our hospitals are now more organized and reserve facilities have increased. In sum, our medical doctors and health-care workers are now managing the Covid-19 cases well.

 

A group within the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, or IATF, should now take a hard look at the toll caused by the virus on the economy. Many workers no longer have the means to provide for the needs of their families after the long lockdown period. Many of them cannot rely forever on the generosity of their employers—many big and small companies are no longer earning and they are already in survival mode.

 

Authorities can look at the models of Hong Kong and Taiwan, which did not impose hard quarantine measures and allowed business operations, including their mass transportation, to continue. We as a nation must now re-open the economy and end the lockdown period on May 15 before reaching the point where our economic losses may be greater than what we are trying to preserve.

 

The government cannot allow the economy to deteriorate further for the simple reason that it also needs to generate revenues from private business operations to fund the bureaucracy, including state hospitals.

 

We must also remember that our small enterprises provide millions of jobs to Filipino workers. With the continued lockdown, our small entrepreneurs are in danger of being wiped out.

 

Solid fundamentals

 

I sincerely believe that the administration of President Duterte has done a good job in containing Covid-19 so far. Our economic ministers also deserve credit for keeping our macroeconomic fundamentals intact amid the pandemic and despite the recession now gripping the global economy. I believe our solid fundamentals will carry us through this pandemic storm and lead the country to economic recovery. And it is heartening to note that the international bond market has taken notice of the country’s economic progress pre-Covid-19.

 

The Philippines just last week raised $2.35 billion from the sale of 10-year and 25-year global bonds amid strong demand. National Treasurer Rosalia de Leon said the transaction booked for the Philippines the lowest ever coupon for a 10- and 25-year benchmark issuance amid the global pandemic fear.

 

It made the Philippines, at least for the time being, in the words of Ms. De Leon, “a diamond in the sovereign issuance space for we were able to convert immense pressure into an opportunity to dazzle in brilliant shine.”

 

A low inflation rate, manageable debt ratio, and now all-time-high gross international reserves of $89 billion at the end of March are keeping the Philippine economy relatively respectable. These good macroeconomic fundamentals will ultimately serve as the country’s own quarantine pass to a sustainable recovery toward the end of the year.