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Opinion

Global economy starting to wake up from pandemic

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez - The Philippine Star

The global economy is starting to wake up with the US leading the way, registering a solid GDP growth of 6.4 percent in the first quarter with economists convinced that this could possibly be the strongest year in seven decades.

In fact, the word used by S&P Global Ratings’ Dr. Beth Ann Bovino to describe the US economy is “sizzling” – no doubt driven by the aggressive vaccination rollout that has also encouraged the reopening of almost all states, including New York and California, which have also seen the biggest number of deaths from COVID-19.

The forecast from the International Monetary Fund is also very optimistic at 7 percent this year, pointing to the remarkable recovery shown by the US from the pandemic, coupled with the proposed American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan of President Joe Biden.

Understandably, Americans are raring to go out and engage in “revenge travel” after being forced to stay at home for more than a year. Families are traveling in droves and revisiting favorite vacation spots around the US. There has also been a marked increase of visitors to destination places such as beach and mountain resorts in rural areas just to take a break from the big city.

Since February, airline bookings have been soaring, with a milestone recorded two weeks ago when over 2 million travelers passed through security screenings at US airports in a single day – the first time since March last year.

Travel is also picking up in Europe with the decision of Germany, Austria and Switzerland to open up for tourism, with quarantine restrictions eased up for fully vaccinated tourists coming from third-countries included in the “white list” or those that are considered safe from the pandemic. The European Union has also started using a COVID vaccination certificate, which is essentially a QR code carried on paper or on a smartphone that will validate if a tourist has been vaccinated, has recovered from coronavirus infection or has a recent negative test for COVID-19.

Although there is apprehension about the highly transmissible Delta variant – which National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) chief Dr. Anthony Fauci said is “currently the greatest threat” in America’s efforts to contain COVID-19 – the US vaccines, specifically Moderna and Pfizer, have been shown to be effective against Delta and other variants.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that my niece, Dr. Marie Romualdez Nierras, has been working at the NIAID with Dr. Fauci since 2014. She confirmed that our procurement of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines can easily complement the other vaccine brands that our country received.

No doubt the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines we secured was the right move. Vaccine czar Secretary Charlie Galvez said the 40 million vaccine doses secured from Pfizer – the biggest deal for this year – “will significantly boost our national immunization program and will enable us to realize our goal of herd immunity by yearend.”

We’re also preparing to acquire booster shots from Moderna once these become available. These booster shots can also be given to those who have been inoculated with other vaccine brands, giving people an added layer of protection from the more transmissible variants like Delta.

As Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said during the World Economic Forum’s virtual “Great Reset” meeting in December, “Vaccination is the game changer.”

Certainly, we need this game changer to help revive the economy, and tourism is a good way to promote the Philippines and help jumpstart our economic recovery. As a matter of fact, a lot of Filipino-Americans are just waiting for quarantine restrictions to ease for them to go back to the Philippines, the same with balikbayans and foreign visitors.

Perhaps we can learn from Thailand that is rebooting its tourism industry by opening Phuket island and offering quarantine-free vacations to fully vaccinated tourists. Adopting a “sandbox” scheme, tourists will not be allowed to go out to the mainland for 14 days, with their movements monitored through an app that they have to download when they arrive. Thailand expects revenues to reach $278 million in the next three months through the Phuket sandbox.

Aside from Boracay, the Philippines has a lot of travel destinations that visitors can enjoy, among them Siargao island which was included in the list of 10 “most charming islands to make the most of the summer season” by Vogue Paris.

Siargao also happens to be the surfing capital of the Philippines, and its inclusion in the list is proof that we have tourist attractions that are comparable to the best in the world. Although Siargao is only open to local tourists at present due to pandemic restrictions, we are hopeful that it will soon be open to international visitors as the situation gets better with the rollout of more vaccines. And since Siargao is also an island like Phuket, perhaps the sandbox scheme can be adopted with fully vaccinated travelers allowed to visit.

There is no denying that the tourism industry has a great potential to help revive the economy and bring more jobs to the people. While the situation is far from normal, we are beginning to see positive signs such as the lower unemployment rate, with more Filipinos getting jobs as the vaccination rollout goes faster.

Like a bear that was in hibernation due to the pandemic, we are waking up from a long sleep and hopefully, will begin to emerge from our cave as the “ber” months starting September bring us closer to a joyous Christmas in December.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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