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As one of the scientists from OCTA Research pointed out during one of our meetings, a pandemic is more than a medical or biological event; it is also a sociological phenomenon.
It takes several disciplines to make sense of a disruptive public health emergency. To a country that is teetering on the edge of either an economic disaster or a magnificent rebound, ignoring the need for a multi-disciplinary approach would be disastrous.
The lesson here is this: We need to listen to all manner of experts: doctors, epidemiologists, data scientists, social scientists, economists, psychologists, and legal experts to fully address a pandemic. That much we have learned over the course of two years of COVID.
We also need to hear the voices of small entrepreneurs, parents, town leaders, office and factory workers, farmers, drivers, those who felt its full weight, so we can see its impact from their point of view. Listening to the stories of our MSMEs during our regular online mentoring sessions at Go Negosyo gives us a peek at what it’s like for our small entrepreneurs.
It brings home the point that there are many sides to this pandemic and its effects go beyond what we observe in the hospital setting.
Many of our countrymen have been driven to desperation because they lost their jobs or saw their small business collapse under the weight of the lockdowns and restrictions. However, the stories of our small entrepreneurs during our Go Negosyo sessions give us hope, seeing how they managed to adapt and find ways to keep their head above water these past two years. It is worth understanding their experience as it informs our decisions as we move forward past this pandemic.
Thankfully, the pandemic response in the Philippines did not become a one-way conversation. Our medical experts gave the best advice they could give and bravely fought off the initial wave as best they could at a time when very little was understood about COVID.
The private sector stepped in when logistical and regulatory challenges were getting in the way of vaccine procurement. Non-government organizations and volunteers carried some of the weight of helping the most vulnerable get access to food when some of our countrymen lost their jobs following the lockdowns. Local governments mobilized community leaders to quickly respond, as needed. Our legal experts guided us to where individual rights end and where the common good begins. Media was careful to temper vaccine misinformation and was instrumental in getting across crucial information, such as the safety of vaccines, vaccination rollouts, and health and safety practices.
And now, as we look forward to an Alert Level 1 by March or perhaps even a total lifting of the country’s public health emergency status if all goes well, we turn our attention to another health problem: that of our economy.
Looking at NEDA’s plans for the country to exit the pandemic, it is quite clear that we need to ramp up our vaccinations and strengthen our healthcare if we are to sustain our fourth-quarter gains. The 7.7 percent GDP growth in the fourth quarter was the fruit of an uphill battle for us in the private sector, as we were the ones who bit the bullet and pushed for a lockdown back in August 2021 to save economic activity by Christmas.
NEDA was also important to sustaining the economy, our economic reopening, school reopening, mobility and future pandemic management. They said we need to change the metrics that determine policy. They suggested changing from counting total cases to counting only total severe or critical cases (i.e hospitalization), and total case fatality ratio (which is more accurate as there may be other causes of deaths in the same timeframe) instead of total deaths.
There is one metric that NEDA keeps from the old paradigm, and that is vaccination. As I’ve emphasized early this week during the Laging Handa briefing, we must continue to vaccinate, especially in places where positivity remains high, like in Iloilo City and Iligan. Moreover, we have to booster the population in places where the majority have already received their primary doses or risk backsliding to square one once the immunity from the vaccines wane. I believe the NCR is ripe for this.
It was observed that cases have fallen in recent months, even as restrictions were loosened. Within two months, we went from a record high of more than 26,000 cases in September to 849 cases in November. The difference? We vaccinated more people.
Increased vaccination will precipitate so many things: increased mobility resulting in more people using public transport, traveling, going inside enclosed business establishments, children returning to the classrooms, and cafeterias and school buses getting back to business.
We must see this pandemic from the eyes of different people. As NEDA pointed out, what we gain in 2021 and 2022 will cushion the running cost of the pandemic to future generations. As of their last estimate, it is at P41.4 trillion over the next 10 to 40 years, and that is due to our actions in 2020 alone.
How we decide to handle this pandemic in the next few months will be crucial.