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Opinion

Straining to catch hints of a recovery

POSTSCRIPT - Federico D. Pascual Jr. - The Philippine Star

We have been straining to catch any hint of a leveling off, leading to a modest recovery within one year, resulting from action plans launched by the administration to prevent the nation’s sliding into a deeper decline while the COVID-19 pandemic rages.

From the valley, we want to climb back to the sunlit peak despite our having been ranked 79th out of 98 countries whose average responses to the COVID-19 pandemic were studied by Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think tank.

A sad note is that five of the Philippines’ nine co-members in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations even got higher ratings: Vietnam at second place, Thailand fourth, Singapore 13th, Malaysia 16th and Myanmar 24th.

Still, we ask readers to help us spot signs of an easing of the economic and political slide and share their positive prognosis together with brief explanations for their optimism. For transparency, kindly write your real names in your email.

Uppermost on the list of day-to-day survival concerns for large sections of the population are food, prices of essential goods, scarce jobs, a living wage, public transportation and the fear of catching the COVID-19 virus or its variants before the promised vaccines arrive.

Many businesses and shops have closed down mostly on weak sales, throwing hundreds of thousands of workers into the growing ranks of the unemployed. Most housewives complain of rising prices of food items, with inflation at 3.03 percent compared to last year’s.

We were struck yesterday by a picture in social media of a head of cabbage in the supermarket tagged at P641.36 per kilo, higher than the minimum daily wage of P537 in the national capital! There must have been a mistake.

On the long-awaited vaccination against the coronavirus, until yesterday the administration was still talking of the promised arrival of a limited number of doses this month, with the rollout of the mass inoculation catching the first-quarter target.

A snapshot of the current political situation includes the corpses of protesters and activists, lawyers and advocates, media men and critics, as well as the curtailment of basic rights in the name of enforcing COVID-19 quarantine protocols.

Since the authorities seem to be unable or unwilling to end the impunity, we drop our objections to external groups organized through United Nations initiatives to help pressure local officials to try harder in stopping human rights violations and extrajudicial killings.

From our notes, meanwhile, are more points:

• The Philippine Statistics Authority said the economy contracted by 9.5 percent in 2020, the largest ever recorded, beating the 7 percent contraction in 1984 during the Marcos regime. The pandemic had contributed to the drop in real personal income, manufacturing output and retail sales.

• The Philippines retained its score of 34 out of 100, on a scale of 0 (“highly corrupt”) to 100 (“very clean”) in the 2020 Corruption Perception Index drawn up by Transparency International. It dropped to No. 115 (it was No. 113 in 2019) out of 180 countries and territories assessed.

• The first 50,000 doses of vaccine made by China’s Sinovac Biotech are expected to arrive this month, part of an order for 25 million doses. Malacañang said the balance will be delivered in batches from March to December.

• At least 5.6 million doses from US drug firm Pfizer and UK’s AstraZeneca are also arriving in the first quarter, according to vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. Is the rest of the nationwide storage and distribution chain ready to handle the vaccines right after arrival?

• The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said church facilities can be used in the vaccination program. Local governments needing such space simply have to coordinate with the parishes.

• The New York Times reported studies suggesting the South Africa variant may blunt the effectiveness of vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Novavax. Johnson & Johnson said while its one-dose vaccine has an efficacy rate of 72 percent in the US, this dropped to 57 percent against the South Africa variant.

• The Alliance of Health Workers described the government’s response to their plight as having “remained extremely slow, numb and deaf” and that there has been no improvement in their working conditions from the grueling year 2020.

DOH vows to improve its COVID response

The think tank Lowy Institute ranked the Philippines 79th among 98 nations after assessing, with the use of six indicators, their average responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, giving the country a score of 30.6 percent behind some of its Southeast Asian neighbors.

The pandemic responses of the 98 countries were evaluated 36 weeks after their hundredth confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The results showed, among other countries, Vietnam at second place with 90.8 percent, Thailand 4th with 84.2 percent, Singapore 13th with 74.9 percent, Malaysia 16th with 71 percent and Myanmar 24th with 62.3 percent.

Their performances were measured based on confirmed cases, confirmed deaths, confirmed cases per million people, confirmed deaths per million people, confirmed cases as a proportion of tests and tests per thousand people.

The Department of Health said it welcomed the study, but stressed that many factors must be considered when doing a survey and interpreting results. (It looked like Lowy did just that.)

After explaining the many things that such an evaluation should consider, the health department said: “We welcome all research on COVID-19 and the opportunities to learn from good practices of other countries. We will continue to improve our response and increase our capacities, not just for this pandemic, but as we endeavor to achieve universal health care and deliver health for all.”

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NB: All Postscripts are also archived at <ManilaMail.com>. Author is on Twitter as @FDPascual. Email: fdp333@yahoo.com

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