And around and around we go

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - February 24, 2021 - 12:00am

We are quickly approaching the one-year mark from when the country first went into quarantine last March. Whenever I think about it I still feel anxious. I remember how uncertain everything was back then. How would we get our necessities? How would we work? How long would we have to remain indoors?

Roughly one year later and while we have the answers to some of these questions, so many more questions remain. It seems both fast and agonizingly slow when we look back at all that has happened in the past 12 months. We know more about the virus now and we are better able to implement safety protocols to help prevent virus spread. But that doesn’t mean we are out of the woods. Not by a longshot.

But we do have to find a way to live. That is something that has been causing anxiety in everyone these past several months. The economy has suffered terribly, dipping lower than it has in a long time with no respite in sight. If we don’t have a way to safely ease restrictions and stimulate the economy, there is no telling how long it is going to take for us to recover.

That is the reason why the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and the Metro Manila mayors have, together, proposed that Metro Manila be put under MGCQ by March to help bolster the economy and get more breadwinners back to their jobs. At this point, more and more people really need the work and several industries need the stimulus projected to come from more consumers being able to go out and spend.

According to several of the mayors in favor of the transition to MGCQ, things have reached a breaking point and too many constituents are on the verge of starvation from lack of money and work. Simultaneously, more and more businesses are being shuttered because of lack of customers.

This is something we always grappled with even back at the height of the pandemic. With so many underprivileged Filipinos living below the poverty line or working for day wages, the fight would be to either die of COVID or starvation. Somehow, we made it through the past 12 months – barely. Honestly, many of us didn’t make it at all. But we need to start implementing real changes if we want to move forward.

Some industries were slowly reopened without causing a significant spike in COVID cases. In some ways, it looks like we have learned to live within the bounds of safety the pandemic has afforded us. If this is true, we need to explore more ways to get people back to work and start focusing on the economy.

But this needs to be a purposeful two-pronged attack. While we are looking for ways to reopen and stimulate the economy, our vaccination programs desperately need to roll out and get started. The delays are already too much. Every week we think things are finally going to get started next week, but then next week arrives and we’re still at square one. It’s unbelievable to think we have been talking about vaccine rollout for almost four weeks running and until now, nothing has happened.

We’ve shot ourselves in the foot when it comes to this. Along with the price delays and the arguing about which vaccine to get, the Philippines also had to deal with the indemnification agreement required by big COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers who don’t want to have to face potential criminal charges during the emergency use of the vaccine. It’s not surprising we would have this additional hurdle considering what happened with Dengvaxia (and is still currently happening).

It’s not just the additional red tape that is going to be a problem because of the Dengvaxia issue. Because of everything that happened, people are scared of being vaccinated. While that fear is warranted to an extent, we all have to agree that these are emergency circumstances. The vaccine is not going to be the cure-all that will get us back to pre-pandemic life, but it is an essential step in moving forward. If up to 50 percent of Filipinos refuse to get vaccinated, we won’t be able to reach herd immunity any time soon.

But that is all still far into the future. At present, we just need to get the vaccines here and get them out. According to President Duterte, he won’t consider the transition into MGCQ until the vaccine program has, at the very least, started. So it’s important to get the vaccinations rolled out if we want to slowly make the transition and start helping the economy and businesses recover.

We’re currently on a merry-go-round and we can’t stop or get off until all of the pieces fall into place. We need to help people get back to work, we need to help boost the economy, but we need to reopen more businesses to do that. We need to transition into MGCQ, but we can’t do that until we have our vaccine programs up and running. Unfortunately, we can’t get these started until the vaccines are finally here and we can let the LGUs start the vaccination drives.

This needs to happen sooner rather than later. It’s time to put delays and red tape aside and push forward. At this point, unless we really get moving, we’ll just keep going round and round instead of forward.

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