Caution and optimism

Published October 17, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Dr. Jun Ynares


Dr. Jun Ynares

The most recent announcement from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) brought much hope even if the mood of optimism that followed it may have appeared muted.

Yesterday, the National Capital Region (NCR) started to experience what the so-called Alert Level 3 meant. Coming out of Alert Level 4 restrictions, Metro Manila saw the opening of more establishments and a more relaxed atmosphere. More important, we saw more people returning to work, particularly those who are part of the hospitality and personal services sectors.

While some places near and around NCR – including Rizal Province – remain under strict quarantine levels, we laud this move by the IATF. After all, many residents of the so-called “bedroom communities” work in Metro Manila. When commerce in the NCR grinds faster, its neighbors feel the benefits.

A note of caution: We hope that the public understands that the lowering of the alert level to “3” is an experiment of sorts. It simply means that appears to be a slowdown in infections. As a result, the healthcare system is under lower risk of being overburdened and collapsing.

The lowering of the alert level does not mean the pandemic has subsided or is nearing the end.

The relaxation of quarantine measures was based on statistics – the numbers which showed a continuing decline in the rate of COVID-19 infections in Metro Manila. The downward rate was the result of the strict quarantine measures imposed several weeks ago. The severe restriction in human movement and commerce brought the rate of infection down.

The public must be warned that infection rates may see a surge again if the basic health protocols are forgotten. It would be tragic if the alert level is raised again closer to the Christmas season.

The recent prognosis from the OCTA Research Group boosts public optimism that this year’s celebration of Christmas would be brighter than last year’s. We heard the group’s spokesperson say that rate of infection in the NCR could dive to as low as 400 cases a day in December from the current rate of 2,000-plus infections per day.

We are not sure if the figure is a product of statistical analysis or is mere wishful thinking.

Regardless, that is a target we can all work on.

If that happens, the country can now focus on getting the economy back on its feet.

The prospects of economic recovery appear bright.

International organizations, including the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are bullish about such prospects.

There are three reasons for the optimism: The sustained growth in public infrastructure spending, improving consumer confidence, and our progress in the national vaccination program against COVID-19.

Here, we have to acknowledge once again the wisdom of the national leadership’s decision to pursue the “Build, Build, Build” program. The sustained implementation of infrastructure projects has assured significant job creation. At the same time, it has prepared the key business areas for the country’s return to normal business operations.

With these infrastructure in place, we may no longer experience the agony of urban commute which plagued the hubs of commerce prior to the pandemic.

We also congratulate the national government and local government units for the gains in the vaccination program. As of the middle of last month, some 22 million Filipinos have already received the first dose and some 18 million have been fully vaccinated, according to reports.

We are confident that the numbers will rise significantly before the end of this year as more vaccines arrive and as our LGUs continue the efficient conduct of vaccination activities in their respective jurisdictions.

These two initiatives, plus growing consumer confidence, are the reason behind the projection that the country will register positive economic growth this year (4.5 percent) and a higher growth next year at 5.5 percent.

There is one major danger to the accomplishment of this goal. According to the ADB, the main risk to the positive outlook is the spread of newer, contagious COVID-19 variants “which may result in the return of stricter containment measures and stall economic activity.” That means our economic recovery remains in the hands of every Filipino.

We must continue to adhere to the basic health protocols of wearing face masks, social distancing and constant hand-washing to see our economy get back on its feet. We must also make sure that all those qualified to get the vaccine must get the jab.

The government can continue to build infrastructure and to sustain the vaccination program.

That may not be enough to bring about economic recovery. We all have to do our share.

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