Addressing health crisis is essential to economic recovery 


Former Senator
Atty. Joey Lina

Battling two simultaneous pandemics – that of coronavirus and economic suffering – is definitely not easy.

“One can feed the other. Business closures, soaring unemployment, and loss of income fuel financial anxiety, which may, in turn, deter people, desperate for work, from taking adequate precautions against the spread of the disease,” wrote Nobel laureate in economics and Yale University economics professor Robert Shiller.

While addressing both the current health crisis worsened by the COVID-19 Delta variant and the economic stranglehold being inflicted by the pandemic is vital, it is necessary to prioritize the health of the population simply because without a healthy population, there never can be economic recovery.

Thus, it is important to control the spread of COVID-19 if we are to have a healthy economy again, according to Prof. Emmanuel Leyco, president of Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, who guested in my Teleradyo program Sagot Ko ‘Yan last Sunday.

While he cited the need for long-term structural changes like improving the housing situation in slum areas where preventing community transmission of the virus is difficult among those living in tight spaces bereft of running water needed to wash hands as often as possible, short-term solutions ought to be focused on.

Among the short-term measures are increasing hospital capacity and expanding the role of health workers in communities and ensuring these heroic frontliners are properly cared for especially in terms of financial benefits promised by government.

And government needs to hurry up in purchasing more vaccines and ensuring availability all over the country, amid the warning from the World Health Organization that the pandemic will be with us for a long time and that we ought to be prepared for the coming of more deadly variants of COVID-19. Along this line, missing public funds must be found and used for vaccine purchases.

Indeed, the worsening situation calls for all hands on deck. The effective and efficient management of the coronavirus is certainly a precondition to economic recovery.

The famous quote that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” is attributed to Albert Einstein. Grasping its meaning will give answers to the burning question: Despite all the lockdowns and stringent measures already laid out, how come we have not flattened the curve of the coronavirus that continues to spread widely?

Thus, LGUs and the IATF must conduct a deeper analysis of what’s happening and what has gone wrong in the current measures to fight the pandemic especially in regard to contact tracing.

And while the health crisis is being addressed, our economic managers must be unrelenting in finding ways to come up with much-needed jobs and livelihood opportunities for the people without endangering health. They must bear in mind that for the poor, the fear of dying from the coronavirus is about the same as the fear of surviving without a job or livelihood.

In addressing the health and economic crises, innovative ideas can go a long way and anything could be of tremendous help. MIT finance professor Emil Verner once said that pandemics are “so disruptive that anything that you can do to mitigate that destructive impact of the pandemic itself is going to be useful.”

Thus, incomprehensible as it may sound, disruptive recession can be a welcome development, if only to ensure that people are staying home amid the economic shutdown to limit the spread of the virus. But here’s hoping that there would be some improvement soon for our economy that plunged by 9.5 percent as measured by GDP last year – the steepest contraction in our country’s post-war history.

If we are effective in controlling the spread of COVID-19 and the threat to public health finally subsides, the focus ought to be on prioritizing local manufacturing. Revitalize it. Invest resources, government or private, and provide all necessary support to speed up its development and protect infant or re-emerging local industries. In the meantime, ensuring the health of Filipinos ought to be paramount. Healthy people can certainly bring forth a healthy economy.