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It’s a tough balancing act. To remain cautious yet have enough confidence to move forward and get things done. With the COVID-19 Omicron subvariants XBB and XBC having already been detected in the Philippines at a time of rising prices, rising interest rates and a strong dollar, the conditions seem ripe for a perfect storm. Yet I feel we need to see things with some clarity.
There is no need to panic, but there’s not much reason to relax, either. We have the brightest minds in the country working to control inflation, and I am sure they are very much aware not to overdo it to a point that it will lead to severe recession. Stagflation – a point where everything is so expensive that people will pull back on spending – will cause the economy to stall. That is why I keep reassuring that the manufacturing sector has enough commodities to last us through the holiday season and through to the first months of 2023, when hopefully the economy has gained enough speed to power through to the rest of the year.
I cannot emphasize enough how important the fourth quarter is to all of us. It is when business momentum dramatically increases. The most obvious manifestation is the brisk activity in moving retail goods and the higher sales of food and beverages. Behind this activity, there is so much more going on. Manpower requirements also increase during the holiday season as more people are hired to man the stores and the restaurants, more workers are needed to make the holiday hams and cakes. It’s a multiplier effect that affects and benefits every Filipino.
Up the line, the fourth quarter is so important for all negosyos because it is a chance to improve cash flow. If businesses make money in the last three months of the year, they will have enough momentum to cross over to 2023 and start again. The confidence the holiday builds cannot be understated, especially given the unstable economic situation in the world brought about by the conflict in Russia and Ukraine.
On the health front, I am glad that the Department of Health has been responsive. I am told that they have been discussing the bivalent vaccines since August, and have set in motion the necessary actions to get them for the population. Last week I wrote a letter to DOH OIC Dr. Rosario Vergeire with some suggestions on how the private sector can contribute to protecting the population through bivalent vaccines. I am happy to report that Dr. Vergeire has expressed that the government welcomes the help of the private sector. I am also thankful that the government has decided to veer away from a sectoral rollout and will make vaccinations open to all. These are important developments as they show that we are learning from our experiences and are now better equipped to handle a pandemic.
This is important because if there is anything that we can glean from the data on severe illnesses and deaths from recent COVID-19 variants, it is that high death rates happen in areas with low vaccination rates. Vaccines do not prevent infection but they do save you from severe illness and death.
The Omicron subvariants XBB and XBC variants are coming mostly from outside of the highly vaccinated NCR. Moreover, the highest mortality rates from XBC seem to be from the under- or unvaccinated areas such as the BARMM.
What we can also glean from the data so far is that natural immunity remains robust from the previous surges. What I am learning from the experts who are closely following this development, is that they are surprised that both new variants – the XBB and XBC – have been in community circulation in the Philippines for at least a month, and that many of those detected with the variants have already recovered. In highly vaccinated Singapore, the XBB surge seems exponential. The Philippines is either underreporting its cases, or its population has acquired natural immunity. Either way, we can only hope that it will not result in having so many severe cases that our hospitals will be swamped.
Hospitals getting overwhelmed appears to be the concern now, not because we lack the facilities but more because it reveals a deeper problem: our lack of nurses. I have said in an interview that the Philippines stands to gain so much if only it creates the right conditions to produce and keep our nurses. Filipino nurses are regarded with much respect overseas. Needless to say, they are also in high demand. There is so much opportunity for education and skills programs that can help more of our countrymen get the needed training to supply this overwhelming demand.
On a broader scale, we need to upskill the Filipino worker and respond to the kinds of workers the world needs, which is right now in the healthcare sector but may yet expand to other emerging fields. Our educational system must be able to fulfill that demand so our OFWs will also scale up to higher-paying work.
So you see, there is truth to the saying that every crisis presents an opportunity. We can be sulking at home and saying that everything is hopeless and we might as well surrender to the panic. Then, truly, you will fulfill that destiny if you think that way because you’ve already lost the battle even before you started fighting. The optimistic person is the one that will succeed in a crisis.