Alternative aftermaths: Part 2 — Economic recovery and the second wave Manila Bulletin

Alternative aftermaths: Part 2 — Economic recovery and the second wave Featured

Part 2 — Economic recovery and the second wave

CENTRAL to a global economic recovery are two predicates: the taming of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) as a “sine qua non” and a seamless measured lifting of the quarantine to restart local economic activities. But the world cannot wait 18 months. Much is unknown about its virulence when quarantine is lifted. It could trigger another wave of contagion. Yet, the world must understand we may have to live with the contagion or its mutant form among us for the foreseeable future.

Government and private revenues are drying up dangerously. Unemployment has shot through the roof and food subsidies are finite. The advanced economies have built-in safety nets, while the impoverished countries, like the Philippines, have their masses coping. They eat when they find work. We need to comprehend, too, that Covid- 19 has ravaged a relatively small percentage of a country’s population, but hysteria, ignorance and panic have blown this out of proportion. It is not a zero-sum game between “saving lives to save the economy or saving the economy to save lives.” The trade-off between the need for jobs and avoidance of contagion to save the economy must be calibrated with precision toward the decision to reopen the economy. (Refer to Nick Perlas’ letter to President Duterte on the Philippine Daily Inquirer.)

Singapore — second wave
Take Singapore, with its reputation as the best governed prosperous city-state; it acted quickly and decisively. By instituting quarantines and employing massive testing, isolating the positives and tracing the infected, and of everyone flying into its Changi airport, the virus was contained. Covid-19 positives were enrolled into its excellent healthcare system, freeing them once they tested negative. Singapore learned its lessons well from the outbreak of the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic. What they did became the gold standard for the virus containment and mitigation. Then the second wave rolled in.

The spike in cases hit Singapore harder this time around. Several reasons could be attributed for this surge, but the overarching cause was that this First World country acted as a Third World country with respect to its foreign migrant workers. “Singapore’s vast migrant worker population, in particular those workers — most from South Asia — living in cramped dormitories, who appear to have been overlooked in the initial wave of testing. What is evident is that the conditions that workers live in made effective social distancing — or ‘home’ quarantine — next to impossible, making it easy for the virus to spread,” (James Griffiths, CNN, April 19, 2020.)

For the well-to-do Singaporeans, the initial reaction as explained by Dale Fisher, infection control chairman at the National University Hospital, was that, “In Singapore, we want life to go on as normal… We want businesses, churches, restaurants and schools to stay open. This is what success looks like. Everything goes forward with modifications as needed and you keep doing this until there’s a vaccine or a treatment.” Its relaxed attitude may have done Singapore in. Or maybe hubris did.

The US
America’s case is different. Unlike Singapore, it is a country gazillion times bigger, endowed with vast resources, but saddled with a complicated political system, presided over by a leader that pales in comparison to Lee Kwan Yew’s progeny, Lee Hsien Loong. United tates President Donald Trump mandated a phased-in reopening of the economy leaving final decision to state governors under a set of his own criteria. The next day he promptly subverted the same — calling his base to “liberate the states from lockdowns.” Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia are key targets needed to propel him to a second term in November. This is seducing fate for a possible second wave of contagion as the exigencies of politics he made supreme over people’s lives.

PH experience
In our country, meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte, or the Deegong, has been chillingly deliberate in explaining to the citizens that the P270-billion outlay is only enough for two months. When the subsidy and the money runs out, this simmering social volcano could erupt — resulting in chaos, disruption and death that is more widespread than that inflicted by any contagion.

Government needs to divert its scarce resources from food subsidy toward getting the work force productive safely and quickly. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd, ascendant over the economic team with the resignation of former Socioeconomic Planning secretary Ernesto Pernia, needs to identify which critical economic activities are immediately viable for restart and in what sequence of urgency, preferably those not dependent solely on foreign supply chains.

The service-producing industries, in which a large segment of our wage earners are engaged in, are obviously the priority

An imaginative public transport system to and from the sites could be introduced — or for that matter, workers could be housed in temporary dormitories near their workplaces. And a curfew could be imposed to monitor eateries, restaurants and entertainment places, and maintain order in the streets.

Corruption
Which brings us to an egregious systemic anomaly. Deeply embedded in our political culture, the traditional values perverting governance surfaces. Even in times of misfortune, rent seekers and market opportunists abound. Millions from the Super Typhoon “Yolanda” (“Haiyan”) calamity funds have never been accounted for and foreign goods donated were found rotting in warehouses because of logistical glitches; and then this despicable practice of substituting politicians’ labels on donors goods, widely known locally as “epal.”

The undisciplined hordes, the pasaway roaming the streets during lockdowns need to be tamed with creative alternative livelihood, keeping them productive. The Deegong who has just extended quarantine for major cities to May 15 has initiated a Balik Probinsya program to decongest the slums of the cities. But, again, as in any palliative, instant solutions to generations-long festering problem are bound to fail. The pasaway will just earn a much-needed vacation back to their provinces. When the crisis abates, they will be back in their hovels. Meantime, when the masses are hungry and angry, looting and crime are their desperate expressions; forcing the state to exercise its monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. In a farcical display of political will but no longer instilling fear into an already callused citizenry, martial law has been hinted at.

Global initiatives
Meanwhile, local economic recovery will not be sustainable unless the global economy restarts. The cooperation of the biggest economies, principally China and the US, with substantial participation of other First World countries is imperative. First is to pool resources and technology and share information toward the production of the Covid- 19 vaccine or other cures. Second is to guarantee distribution priority to the countries that need these the most.

Despite Trump defunding the World Health Organization, this is still the most extensively wired worldwide institution that can allocate the needs of member countries efficiently. Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin will still be in charge of their respective countries. By November, an American lameduck president may be presiding over the US.

But before then, the world must work with urgency as one to save humanity no less. We all work together to save our specie, or we perish individually, just the same. And this is the new normal.

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Read 236 times Last modified on Wednesday, 29 April 2020 07:09
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