Back on track

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - December 27, 2020 - 12:00am

With clear instructions from President Duterte that anything that has to do with vaccine procurement begins and ends on COVID task force chief General Carlito Galvez’s desk, we can now all be assured that we are in good hands. Secretary Galvez can very well leverage his experience as a logistics expert to consolidate the diverse tasks needed to carry out the country’s national vaccine roadmap.

We have already turned over all the information including delivery timelines provided by American pharmaceutical firms ready to supply our country with their vaccines – and the rest is now up for Secretary Galvez’s perusal. I spoke with him a few days ago and he said they are looking at four or five suppliers of the vaccines assuring us of a supply of 60-70 million doses no later than the middle of next year. As soon as he instructs us, we will try to work on earlier deliveries from this end.

The secretary has also issued an assurance that the country is “on track” and that we are still able to make up for the delays in the negotiations. “We are working on getting a fair share of the vaccines in the global market, given that 80 percent of the vaccines have already been procured by the manufacturers’ country of origin and countries now in the height of the ‘second wave’,” he said.

The private sector is joining forces with the government to support the massive logistical requirements in the rollout of the vaccines as seen in the big turnout during the recent virtual Vaccine Logistics Summit. Coordination between the public and private sectors, including global agencies, was emphasized in the fight against the pandemic.

As underscored by Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation president Butch Meily, “Collaboration between the government and the private sector in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines ensures the best use of trucks, airlines, hospitals and other resources in one of the most complex logistics exercises ever.”

The whole world is hoping to recover from the ravages of the pandemic, although the case rate is still very high, especially here in the United States where over 18 million have been infected. More than one million Americans have been vaccinated starting with the frontliners, with more than 20 million doses set for distribution in the next few weeks.

But as health experts have cautioned – foremost among them US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci – people still need to be vigilant with the wearing of masks and the practice of social distancing. Based on past history and even during the time when no vaccines were available, wearing masks is an effective way to stop the spread of an infectious disease.

In the past few weeks, new strains of the novel coronavirus have been detected in South Africa and the United Kingdom. Initial reports indicate that the “UK variant” could be 70 percent more transmissible, although scientists say it does not seem to cause more severe illness. Experts are also confident that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would still be effective as they can be tweaked to combat the new strains.

It was quick on the part of President Duterte to suspend flights from the UK to ensure public health and safety. We have to accept the fact that developments like this will happen every now and then, which is why we have to continue to be vigilant, and people must maintain health and safety protocols for at least a year until the World Health Organization officially declares the pandemic over.

As the saying goes, it’s not over till it’s over since it will take time for the immunization of at least 60 percent of the world’s population. Clearly, lessons can be learned from this pandemic – described as unprecedented because the virus behaved in a manner that defied all expectations, as it would not manifest any symptoms for one person while it could be fatal for another.

What is very clear is the need for a more accurate system of reporting and tracking to prevent the further spread of the virus. Definitely, all these lessons will help countries prepare better for any potential pandemic that could take place again. Billionaire Bill Gates’ foundation warned about a major pandemic 15 years ago.

No doubt it’s been a really difficult year, with so many sectors having been affected, especially our overseas Filipino workers. But deployment is starting to slowly pick up, according to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. Several countries are also set to reopen their borders to foreign workers once their respective vaccine programs start to roll. The government has also put together a package of livelihood assistance programs for OFWs who have been displaced due to the pandemic, along with college scholarships provided for their children.

In the meantime, Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez will be launching several virtual economic briefings to attract more companies that are relocating to Asia. Secretary Dominguez is confident that “the worst is over” and that the Philippines will be able to rebound strongly in 2021 given the “green shoots” that are coming up, among them our record-high gross international reserves that stood at $104 billion as of the end of October. The peso is also projected to strengthen even further in 2021 as the market “continues to focus on the Philippines’ strong macroeconomic fundamentals,” according to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas governor Ben Diokno.

All of us will never forget 2020, but we are all certainly looking forward to 2021 – confident that we are “back on track for the health and wealth of our country.”

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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