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TURNING POINT: A Long Wait, a Last Priority

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 20 September) — Already six months on the go and still counting.

The Philippines holds the world record of having imposed the longest lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

The lockdown for the purpose was, however, imposed rather late, only on March 15, one and half months after the reported death of a coronavirus victim in the country (the first death from COVID-19 outside China) and only when infection cases already marked 140 and deaths at 12. The delayed reaction dissipated the advantage of the stringent measure.

On September 15, the 6th month of the lockdown, infection cases already rose to 265,888, with 4,630 deaths. Just three days later the figures dramatically changed to 279,289 and 4,785, infection cases and deaths, respectively.

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The curve hasn’t flattened. In fact, since August 4, the daily infection cases range from 2000 to 5000, alarming the healthcare system. The phenomenal surge began after the government lifted some lockdown restrictions to awaken the economy from long hibernation. The multitude, especially in the metropolis, rushed out of their shelters to go back to work or find another as the previous may no longer be around, and might  have gotten the virus along the way.

For, indeed, thousands of jobs had been lost to the lockdown. Thus even if the economy is reopened, many still will go hungry for some time because jobs are scarce inasmuch as the economy has not been totally opened or restored to pre-pandemic condition. The Bayanihan Act 2 Social Amelioration Program (SAP) is hoped to address the situation. But you can’t expect much from a program ran by the same people whose performance in the first SAP was riddled by ineptitude and corruption.

The times are truly difficult. Experts place the contraction of the economy, that is, the reduction of our GDP by 7 percent during the second quarter of 2020. On the ground, it is translated to 15.5 percent reduction of consumption. Reduced consumption means less spending which redounds to less production of goods and services and less works. Unless and until the economy returns to normal, the situation is no way to change.

Salvation is hoped in the vaccine.

Unfortunately, the vaccine that is thought to rescue us from the coronavirus pandemic  may take a year yet  to be truly efficacious and safe. And access to the vaccine is also a competition, as frenetic as the race to produce it, where the front-liners were already predetermined by their deposit or investment as early as in the research and development phase.

The Philippines, banking on the good graces of China and Russia, eschewed advance payment to any vaccine manufacturer. Thus, the country may find itself at the tail end of the queue to salvation. Naturally, China has first to attend to the needs of its 1.4B people before anyone else. So does Russia to its 145M citizens. So by the look of it, we may have our vaccine a year or two behind China and Russia. Unless, of course, the W.H.O. will make some determined moves to accelerate vaccine mass production and make it available easily to the whole world with minimal cost. If that happens our waiting may be reduced by a year, meaning to only two years from now.

It is still a long wait. And the waiting is fraught with hardships, risks and danger. People may die from fear, from hunger or from the pandemic. Death is just lurking in the corner. The choice, of course, is not between dying from the pandemic and dying from hunger but rather between living through this pandemic and dying in it: The choice is between life and death.

Those who choose life need to earn a living and avoid by all means an encounter with the virus.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is a retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines)


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