This year’s Easter observance is muted and subdued by the sobering realities brought on by COVID-19. An unprecedented surge has transformed the NCR+ bubble area from a hotspot into a cauldron of infection with more than 80 per cent of new cases. The trauma of the initial outbreak a year ago has hit home anew: painful isolation and confinement of the ailing and the dying; fast-tracked cremation and burial of those who have fallen.
Easter Sunday is the scheduled last day of the hard lockdown, yet few would venture a more optimistic outlook on the way forward.
Looking outward into the East Asia and Pacific, the World Bank’s assessment is sobering:
“The economic shock caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled poverty reduction and increased inequality,” according to Victoria Kwakwa, regional vice president. She continues: “As countries begin to rebound in 2021, they will need to take urgent action to protect vulnerable populations and ensure a recovery which is inclusive, green and resilient.”
In a message to a forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) last end-January, Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary’s Karl Chua noted that “nothing significant has changed” and that, at best, “we will ramp up by the middle of the year starting the second quarter.” It is only after Easter that, hopefully, the thick fog of recession will lift — but this depends critically on the extent to which the pandemic has been contained.
Beyond macroeconomic analysis, attention must be paid to the heavy toll exacted by the pandemic on those hardest hit by its harmful effects. More than seven million Filipinos lost their jobs during the first quarter of quarantine last year. Although the figure was reduced toward year-end, there were still almost four million jobless breadwinners. This translates into millions of families threatened or afflicted by hunger; millions of young children likely to be malnourished.
As Filipino schoolchildren have endured one of the longest periods of school closure they have become more vulnerable to stunting, “the impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection, and inadequate psychosocial stimulation.”
Two pathways to recovery have been outlined by Bangko Sentral Governor Benjamin Diokno: first, the funding of “priority expenditures to help rebuild the economy” such as investments in health, social services and infrastructure; and second, providing assistance to hasten the recovery of micro, small and medium enterprises that form the backbone of the economy.
Pope Francis’ exhortation to the faithful a year ago rings true anew: “The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.”