OF TREES AND FOREST
This has been a year of rebounds. We have survived periodic surges of the coronavirus and the ineffectual hard lockdowns that followed increases in daily infection rates. We have survived the loss of jobs and the economic downturn. Not only did we survive these challenges but we are also poised to recover. I am hoping this will continue in 2022.
The World Bank seemed confident in our economic recovery trajectory. In its Philippines Economic Update (PEU) released early this month, the World Bank expressed confidence in our economy’s ability to grow 5.3 percent this year and 5.8 percent in 2022 and 2023. It said that “government spending on infrastructure is expected to buoy growth, aided by the steady progress in vaccination leading to greater people mobility and the revival of businesses”. It added that “household consumption is projected to recover, anchored on rising remittances and improving incomes as more people regain or find new jobs”.
This road to recovery is anchored on our ability to keep the economic activities humming even as the pandemic continues. While the rate of daily infections has been decreasing the past months, a slight uptick has been noted in the past few days. Experts attribute this to holiday activities that have seen people returning to malls for their shopping and to bars and restaurants for gatherings and celebrations.
We have yet to see the surge in cases that several European countries are experiencing now due to the Omicron variant. France and the United Kingdom, in particular, have been battling record number of Omicron cases in the past few weeks while The Netherlands have reimposed a strict lockdown. I am hoping that our improved rate of vaccination and booster shots will be enough to make the predicted Omicron surge more manageable. As I write this piece, a total of 3 omicron variant cases have already been identified but thankfully no local transmission of the highly infectious variant has been detected yet.
Obviously, our road to recovery will be greatly imperiled by another surge in cases. This is the reason why we need to anticipate and prepare for this. Local authorities need to make sure that the public continues to follow health protocols. I also hope we have learned our lessons from past surges. We need to improve the capacity of hospitals in managing the projected surge in COVID-19 cases. This can be done by increasing the number of hospital and ICU beds and providing all the support our health workers need. We need to do these things now. In fact, we should have been doing this a long time ago.
In addition, we should have been increasing our capacity to test, trace and isolate. Testing has been proven to be very effective in managing surges. In the United Kingdom, people are given rapid antigen kits which they take at home. More recently, U.S. President Joe Biden has ordered the purchase of 500 million at-home test kits as part of his administration’s strategy to combat the Omicron variant.
The best time to make these preparations is now while the cases are down. We cannot make the same mistakes over and over again. We have been down this road before and we should have learned our lessons from past experiences as well as the experiences of other countries. I hope we can get better at responding to COVID-19 surges instead of just resorting to a blanket lockdown response.
I do not even think that government can afford another hard lockdown. Government resources have been depleted by our COVID-19 response programs. The President has candidly admitted this amidst the need for more money for the relief and reconstruction of communities destroyed by the recent typhoon.
And so as 2021 fades away, and as we prepare to welcome 2022, I hope we can sustain this downtrend in cases that has led to the reopening of the economy and to our people regaining a bit of their freedom in terms of mobility.
Happy new year everyone!