We are only halfway through 2021, but this year may yet be our annus horribilis, a horrible year of death and decay, of a spiralling descent into a prolonged period of uncertainty for millions of Filipinos.
This week, Metro Manila and other key localities will again be placed under hard lockdown. For the capital region, this will be the third time since last year that the national government has resorted to draconian measures in the face of another surge in COVID-19 infections. Needless to state, the economic costs of the hard lockdown will be staggering. The Socio-Economic Planning Secretary says at least P210 billion will be lost as a result of the two-week lockdown. It will also force 444,000 able-bodied Filipinos out of work, and increase the number of the poor by 177,000.
Although the Department of Health (DOH) refuses to acknowledge it, health experts have attributed the surge to a deadlier strain of the virus, the Delta variant. We are not alone in this predicament. Economists are saying that this new variant is affecting the recoveries of countries around the world, but its economic impact will be felt more severely by countries with low vaccination numbers. The Philippines is one of those countries.
Despite the national government’s chest thumping over the increasing number of fully-vaccinated Filipinos, the truth is that it has thus far vaccinated only nine million, or 8.3 percent, of its target of 70 million. At this pace, the projection is that the national government will be able to meet its target by March 2022.
The Socio-Economic Planning Secretary has always been emphatic about the importance of vaccination in the national government’s economic recovery plan. He made the same assertion when he was interviewed a few days ago. But the good Secretary seems to have overlooked the fact that we do not have sufficient vaccines at the moment. This has been publicly admitted by senior government officials. One official had gone to the extent of asking impatient local officials to understand the national government’s predicament. Most of our local governments, particularly those in Metro Manila, have been primed to vaccinate their constituents for the past few months, but are stymied by the paltry vaccine supplies from the national government, not to mention the unreliable delivery dates and in some cases, arbitrary guidelines in apportioning the donated vaccine doses.
A senior government official expects our vaccine supply to stabilize sometime in October. What this means is that from August to October, we may have to choose between staying locked up in our homes or venturing out for necessities or work and risk being infected. For the rich and the middle-class, two weeks under home quarantine would be a minor inconvenience. For majority of our people, however, those two weeks would translate to 14 days of scrimping on the most basic of necessities, or foregoing a meal or two.
We are all at the mercy of the virus. That much needs to be admitted by our government officials. Not even the renewed and massive presence of policemen in combat fatigues manning border checkpoints can stop this virus from spreading. The confirmation that over 80 policemen who were deployed during the State of the Nation Address (SONA) tested positive for COVID-19 reminds us, once again, that we are facing an unseen enemy that cannot be threatened or subdued by the threat of force.
Amidst all these developments on the health front, the Health Secretary was reported as dismissing criticisms that his department has been reactive in dealing with the Delta variant. He told CNN Philippines that, on the contrary, it’s the other way around. “Baliktad. We are proactive, not reactive,” he said.
At this point, we can only be charitable and describe the good Secretary’s statement as comic relief.