A health, economic, social, and political crisis
FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras (The Freeman) - March 31, 2020 - 12:00am

The current COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-hundred years’ kind of crisis and disaster. It may be comparable to the 14th-century plague (Black Death) and the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemics, but hopefully with lesser mortalities. The Black Death mortalities were in the hundred million and the Spanish Flu in the 50 million. Going on its fourth month, the COVID-19 pandemic has now infected over 600,000 people and some 30,000 plus have died. In the Philippines, over 1,000 have been infected and 68 have died as of the end of March 2020. Because of inadequate/insufficient testing of the population, the more important statistic are the fatalities. At this time, it can be said that the world has been doing well as far as containing the contamination and fatality rates compared to the previous pandemics, but as no one can predict how long this pandemic will last, this is still a work in progress. The advances in medical science, social hygiene, information and communication technologies, and all other scientific/technological advances may and will be the saving factor, even if the same advances are also responsible for the wider and faster contamination by making it possible for people to be more interconnected globally. Nevertheless, we are still facing a public health, an economic, a social and political crisis globally and in our country.

The public health problem is how to reduce and limit the contagion among the population in a given geographic area, to avoid inundating the public and private health fatalities. While world wars may have similar number of casualties, they fatalities are spread over a longer period of time and can be contained in specific territories. Pandemics cause more deaths over a shorter time period and are difficult to contain in specific areas. Isolation, quarantine, population lockdowns, together with massive information dissemination and improved treatments are the answer, and are now implemented. Some countries are better than others in doing these, so they are more successful.

However, containing the health problem leads to an economic problem as the economy slows down or grinds to a halt. Demand and supply for goods and services constrict as factories and businesses close, consumers stop purchases except for food commodities, supply chains and delivery systems are disrupted, people are unemployed and have no income. Governments usually address this problem by flooding the economy with money to sustain the businesses with cheap funds and the working population with subsidy and outright grants. But the commendable thing that is happening in the Philippines and all over the world, is that the private sector has stepped in to sustain the economy by supporting the needs of their employees, donating to the informal sectors of the economy, and subsidizing the lower class, thereby mitigating the contraction of the demand side of the economy. And this is on top of all the private sector assistance to the public health problem by providing the medical supplies and equipment to the hospitals and other frontline workers. In the Philippines, the private sector contribution valued in monetary terms may even exceed the government’s assistance.

There is a high probability that the initiatives and actions done by the government and the private sector may stave off the feared consequent social/civil unrest when a major component of the population becomes unable to secure basic food necessities. Streamlining and fine-tuning the quarantine and lockdown regulations to improve the supply chain and delivery systems should be prioritized. Instead of undermining the perceived political opponents who are helping this crisis, they should be supported. The reason there are many criticisms of the government’s efforts and errors, is because this government has been verbally, legally, and physically persecuting its opponents. These people are also now in the forefront of helping this country in this pandemic crisis.

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