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We Will Emerge Stronger

I believe we will emerge stronger as a nation from the Covid-19 pandemic once it is contained.

 

For now, we need to remain cautious after the pandemic infected 2.7 million people and killed more than 190,000 globally as of April 23, 2020.

 

While the World Health Organization said the “virus will be with us for a long time,” I am optimistic that a vaccine, antiviral drug or cure will be made available soon.

 

The good news is at least five human trials for vaccines have already been authorized in different countries. There were 86 candidate vaccines being studied, according to wire reports. In the Philippines, President Duterte offered a P50-million reward to Filipino scientists who can develop our own vaccine.

 

We are in this together, and we need the cooperation of everyone to ride out the storm. Let us continue to behave within the confines of our homes or workplaces to avoid the spread of the virus.

 

I trust President Duterte’s judgment when he extended the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon and other high-risk areas by another 15 days, or until May 15, 2020. The extension is based on the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases. The President also consulted with both health and economic experts to come up with the decision.

 

Under the President’s declaration, low-risk and moderate-risk areas will be under general community quarantine or GCQ until May 15.  The IATF recommended minimum health standards in these areas starting April 27 based on the guidelines from different departments.

 

Areas under GCQ would now allow workers to go out and work in phases, but young people, senior citizens, and those with high health risks would be required to stay home. Priority and essential construction projects would be allowed to resume, subject to minimum health standards, physical distancing, and barracks for workers. Public transport would also be allowed to operate but at a reduced capacity. A curfew would remain at night for nonworkers.

 

I also welcome the new protocol in business operations spelled out by the Department of Trade Industry and the Department of Health as the Philippines prepares for the post-ECQ scenario. Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez was quoted as saying that the best hygiene and health measures should be the new protocol.

 

He identified minimum health standards such as strict social distancing, wearing of face masks, presence of sanitation stations, the taking of body temperature, and provision of vitamins in work and public places.

 

He said the conduct of Covid-19 tests, provision of nearby accommodation facilities and shuttle services, allowing more work-from-home arrangements and health care preparedness and insurance from enterprises “should be the new normal as we ease into the new way of doing business.”

 

“We need to have a new way of doing business to ensure that our significant gains during the ECQ and the collective efforts in flattening the curve will not be put to waste once ECQ is fully lifted,” he said.

 

If we are able to observe these measures, I am confident we will be able to allow the economy to recover starting in the fourth quarter this year. While the International Monetary Fund reduced its 2020 growth for the Philippines to 0.6 percent (it can even be negative) from a previous estimate of 6.3 percent. IMF resident representative to the Philippines Yongzheng Yang believes economic growth would rebound strongly to 7.6 percent in 2021.

 

The Asian Development Bank shares the same optimism. It sees the Philippine economy rebounding to 6.5 percent next year, which I find realistic. The expansion would still make the Philippines among the world’s best-performing economies.

 

Infrastructure spending will play a crucial role in this economic rebound. By rolling out the major infrastructure projects under the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program, we will bring hundreds of thousands of construction workers to the active labor force again. This will create a domino effect on other industries and reopen the flow of income from urban areas, where most construction sites are located, to the provinces where the families of our construction workers live.

 

Although the government provided cash assistance to 18 million low-income families during the ECQ period, it could only do so for a few months, especially after tax collection came to a halt in April, a peak period in the Bureau of Internal Revenue calendar.

 

To sustain government services, we need the cooperation of everyone to fight the pandemic during the ECQ period and boost our health while at home so that everyone can contribute to economic reinforcement in the coming months.

 

I believe once this pandemic is over, we will be in a good position not only to restore the vigor of the Philippine economy but also to fortify our health-care industry for the benefit of everyone.