Making it to the finish line: A vaccine is coming
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - July 12, 2020 - 12:00am

As the race to develop a vaccine is getting close to the finish line, health experts all over the world continue to study the infection pattern and the transmission path of COVID-19 – with new waves of infection hitting many places including those that were previously touted as a “model of virus prevention.”

But life must go on – so we need to open up the economy sooner than later because people must also have their livelihoods back as this will obviously impact the poorest of the poor.

The pre-SONA virtual briefing led by Executive Secretary Bingbong Medialdea and Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez with our economic team is a clear indication that we must forge ahead with the decision to jumpstart the economy with extreme caution. The livestream pre-SONA briefing – viewed by thousands all over the world – was also well received by many members of the Filipino-American community here in the United States, showing the confidence of the administration’s economic team that the country will be able to regain its momentum and bring the economy back to a growth path.

Describing the pandemic as a “black swan” event that no one fully anticipated, Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez called on everyone to do their part as individuals if we are to overcome the contagion, expressing his belief that the nation is strong enough to weather this problem and perhaps come out even stronger than before.

“The reality is that this virus will not go away until a vaccine is found. In the meantime, we must get back to work while staying safe. We need to strike a reasonable balance between safeguarding public health and restarting our economy. Health and livelihood is not a binary choice. We must protect lives in ways that do not prevent us from earning a living. This is a tough decision to make but we need to do this,” he said, underscoring the fact that everything is really a tough balancing act.

The cooperation of people is really key, because while nobody wants to die of COVID-19, no one also wants to risk hunger and even death because there is no food on the table.

“Revving up the economy essentially means raising consumer and investor confidence,” Secretary Dominguez pointed out, adding that doing this would require some “functional level of interaction among groups and individuals. We are asking all Filipinos to cultivate in themselves a renewed sense of confidence through continued vigilance – not out of fear, but with the knowledge that most factors of viral transmission are under our control.”

Among the emerging signs of economic recovery include the Bureau of Customs’ June collection which surpassed the target by 4.4 percent due to higher import volume, which is indicative of rising economic activity. Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas governor Ben Diokno also cited the stability of the Philippine banking system as another source of strength for the domestic economy.

The country’s balance of payment position also posted a surplus of $4 billion for the first five months of 2020. In addition, the Philippines’ gross international reserves stood at an all-time high of $93.3 billion – the highest ever in Philippine history – enough to cover 8.4 months’ worth of imports of goods and payments for services and primary income, Ben Diokno said.

While people see a continuing increase in the number of cases, this could also be due to the fact that more people are getting tested – something that is needed since there are those who have already contracted the virus but are asymptomatic or are not yet displaying symptoms, which poses more risk as they are unknowingly infecting other people.

The government is really working hard to help the economy recover quickly in a sustainable and resilient manner. We have seen examples of carelessness in some countries including here in the US where some states opened up irresponsibly with people stubbornly refusing to wear masks, continuing to “party” and holding gatherings in defiance of health mandates that would help prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

We are getting close to a vaccine, with America’s top infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci projecting that a vaccine could be made available by the end of this year. The United States has poured billions of dollars to US bio companies, and from the information we gathered here in Washington, D.C., there are already as many as 10 pharmaceutical companies – six of them from the United States alone – that are so close to developing the vaccine at a safe level. Pfizer is emerging to be way ahead in the race with company executives expressing confidence that they could secure FDA approval by October.

An initial 100 million doses are projected for production this year. The American pharma company – which has been present in the Philippines for decades – has been steadfast in its efforts to produce a vaccine, and we have already lined up to be among the first recipients of the vaccine.

Like I have always said, patience is a virtue. People must be patient even if they are feeling the pinch of staying home with their activities limited. But we must realize the importance of wearing masks, making a habit of practicing social distancing, and maintaining sanitation by practicing basic hygiene like frequently washing hands with soap and water.

This is like a marathon where we and the rest of the world are all racing against time to stay alive. But if people are irresponsible and careless, they will not make it to the finish line when the vaccine finally becomes available.

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