OF TREES AND FOREST
President Rodrigo Duterte set a positive message for the new year when he said in his traditional New Year’s address: “With the guidance and grace of the Almighty and the enduring spirit of bayanihan and malasakit, I am confident that we will achieve a stronger and brighter future for our people…”
He urged Filipinos to “begin anew with a stronger commitment in our shared task of nation-building” and “to reflect on lessons learned” in order “to do better and aim higher.”
Despite the difficulty of the previous year that saw the economy lose the gains it has achieved over several years, there are reasons to be as optimistic as the President. The year 2021 is the perfect time to start our recovery and build the foundation for a better, renewed country.
This optimism, of course, depends on certain things that we should be able to do. We need to work harder to make this year better. Things will not improve on their own. It requires our people to once again display their trademark diligence and perseverance.
The first issue we need to grapple with is obviously the Covid-19 vaccines—its procurement and distribution. Inoculating our people is obviously the most important step towards defeating the virus and fully restarting our economic recovery. But despite the good news of seven vaccines reporting positive trial results and getting regulatory approval, there remains serious challenges to getting everyone vaccinated.
The challenge is how to produce and deliver the vaccines to world’s 7.8 billion people and for that matter, to our country’s 110 million population. According to Bloomberg, 8.25 billion doses of various vaccines have already been set aside through contracts made by governments with vaccine makers. The manufacture, distribution, and storage of such amounts is a herculean logistical task.
To give us some perspective, Bloomberg reported that some 12.3 million doses in 30 countries have so far been administered. It’s a tiny percentage of the what needs to be accomplished. Even the supposedly most powerful nation that is the US is struggling with distribution with only 4.33 million doses given initially to health workers. Israel has been very aggressive with more than 12% of its population already vaccinated. While the UK, despite being the first country to approve a vaccine has so far vaccinated around 940,000 of its citizens.
All our efforts and resources should be focused on securing the best available vaccines for our people. No cost should be spared to make sure that our people are inoculated as soon as possible. Reports have noted that the Philippine government has already secured 30 million doses of Novavax’s vaccine and “between four to 25 million doses” from Moderna.
While waiting we should not stop following strict health protocols as we go about our daily lives in the “new normal”. Even when vaccinated, experts have said that it will take some days or weeks before the body builds the immunity necessary to fight the coronavirus. So, we should continue to practice physical distancing, regular washing of hands, and wearing of face masks and face shields.
Our recovery will also depend on businesses—especially medium, small and micro enterprises—getting back on their feet. Government must ensure that help will be provided to entrepreneurs so that they can reinstate the jobs lost and the livelihood of our people. We need to help small businesses acquire the capacity to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, adapt new business models, and invest in new technology.
As the President said, we need to do better and aim higher. 2021 will be a better year. Remember, if we survived the challenges of 2020, we can definitely do the hard work of rebuilding this year.