In the race to defeat COVID, the key remains in the ability of the nation to achieve herd immunity. That means, vaccinating up 70 percent of the population. Unfortunately, there is still a significant portion of Filipinos that hesitate to get vaccinated. So, even as government and the private sector ramps up the supply of vaccines, this will not amount to anything if they cannot get them into the arms of Filipinos.

One way to get this done, in my opinion, is to start breaking down the “quarantine mentality” that pervades society. The fact that we still use the term “quarantine” promotes the notion that we are in a continuing state of peril. We probably are, to be fair. The number of new COVID infections nationwide remains in the five to six thousand range.

I think, though, that remaining in quarantine mode undermines the efforts of government to fire up the economic engines. It keeps consumers and the public at large in a negative frame of mind. While the government is working to reopen various business sectors and restart industry, this is only half the equation. It is opening supply chains. A necessary twin effort must be in stimulating demand. To this end, propping up consumer confidence is so critical. We have to get Filipinos to break out of their quarantine bubbles and believe that it is okay to start the journey back to economic and social engagement as well as discretionary spending.

As with other countries, perhaps, it might be better to adapt a more neutral COVID alert advisory. Something like “Yellow, Orange or Red” alerts. Or, maybe, “low, mid or high”. While being able to convey urgency, it also does away with the “Robinson Crusoe” mentality that keeps people in an isolation or lockdown outlook.

I also believe that reporting – by government agencies and media – should shift away from case counts and more towards recoveries, critical care utilization and active cases. I have always believed that the higher infection count is something good because it means we are able to identify carriers. It is the first step to isolating, tracing, treatment and, hopefully, recovery. This is the reason why we promote testing although, admittedly, we have room to improve in this area. Testing has, sadly, declined despite our having built up a robust national testing capacity. This is probably a function of the high cost. The greater majority of Filipinos cannot afford the fees that range anywhere from P1,000 to P3,000.

Avoidance, of course, is the most important firewall to the rise in infection. However, this rests very much in our hands. We need to strictly follow basic health protocols – mask, disinfect, distance. After all, we are the carriers and spreaders of the virus, not government. If we work at protecting ourselves and minimizing our risk of spreading the virus then the number of infections will fall.

Another hopeful way of starting to get the population into a more positive and hopeful mindset is to drum up good news. Recently, the nation has been riding a wave of proud Filipino achievements, particularly in the sports field. Yuka Saso became the first Filipina to ever win a major golf tournament when she won the US Women’s Open. That thrust her into the eighth position in the Rolex world rankings. A great moment that fueled a much-needed surge in favorable public sentiment.

Then there was the win of Alex Eala and her partner  in the Roland Garros French Tennis Open. Together, they battled to win the Girl’s Double crown. Another proud moment for the Filipino people. And the timing could not have been more perfect – the country’s 123rd Independence Day.

Of course, there are, too, the qualifiers to the Tokyo Olympics – Hidilyn Diaz in weightlifting, Carlos Yulo in gymnastics, Ernest John Obiena in the pole vault, four boxers and entries in rowing, Taekwondo and skateboarding.

All these achievements help lift the spirits of the Filipinos. This at a time when we are constantly  – daily – bombarded by negative news that diminishes efforts to restore confidence to the consumer and the economy.

The fundamentals of the Philippine economy are strong.  The recent upward trend of the Philippine Stock Exchange index is an encouraging testament to this. We are catching-up with neighboring countries.  Hopefully, this signals a rise in investments that can further fuel the reopening of the economy. A rise in capital expenditures by the private sector will be a welcome tandem to the continued rise in government infrastructure spending. The good news, too, is that inflation is being tamed and a low interest regime can be expected to prevail.

The various elements of a recovery in economic activity are evidencing themselves. We need to work the levers to gain traction and move the country on the road to a better normal.

Source: Manila Bulletin (