Because of this coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, we are seeing unprecedented changes in social behavior, education and modes of international cooperations. The United States is receding in its leadership in this crisis because of the “America First” attitude of President Donald Trump and the extension of assistance by China around the world. There will be massive effects on all economies that will last for at least two years, affecting billions of people around the world, trillions of dollars in economic activity as stocks are tanking worldwide, interest rates are dropped and more money is printed, tourism and travel are decimated, and supply chains, employment and societies are disrupted.
International scientific cooperation. Scientific researchers have been helping each other, sharing information and data. China sequenced the genome in days and shared with researchers around the world. Japan and Russia are sharing information and working with China on drugs and vaccines that have proven significant, if limited in effect. Israel, India and Europe are in a race to develop their drugs and vaccines. Trump is alleged to have tried to offer to buy out a German vaccine developed by Curevac for “exclusive use” or control by the US. This prompted German Health Minister Jens Spahn to declare any vaccine they develop will be for the world and not any one country.
Forced modes of international cooperation are unavoidable as countries have locked down travel to from each other. The New York Times criticized China for the limiting of human liberties, but now similar models are being applied in the US and other parts of the world. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said this pandemic was an opportunity for jobs to move back to the US. Meanwhile, China is sending millions of masks; thousands of ventilators; hundreds of thousands of personal protective equipment; medical supplies to Italy, Europe, Africa and countries embargoed by the US like Iraq and Iran. The Chinese are donating to the US, as well. China’s donations to the Philippines of 100,000 high-tech test kits, 100,000 surgical masks, 10,000 N95 masks and 10,000 sets of personal protective equipment were received in Manila by Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and the Department of Health to be distributed to our medical workers and health care frontliners. A medical team will also lend their assistance.
How is the Philippines managing? Our infection rates are still rising — far from the disastrous levels suspected by some but expected to be higher in reality. Our high mortality rate, 7.3 percent at 19 deaths out of 262 infected, shows that our net treatment ability is not on par with other countries, which have less than 1 percent for the developed nations, especially considering we have a fairly young population, which should give us a lower mortality.
We are in potentially great danger in three respects:
One, the infection and death rates can rise very quickly if we misapply the resources we now have, overexhaust our medical personnel already doing a heroic job, or fail to monitor and manage the spread. It is a balancing choice between safety in health of the people or the health of the economy, but there are some sacrifices that don’t need to be made if we calibrate better, it’s not totally either-or.
Two, the economy can tank if we don’t make adjustments to allow some practical activity, especially in logistics for needed goods and services, if we don’t conserve resources to last in good financial standing the possible duration of the lockdown. We should try to get back to normal mode soon, especially the productive, low-risk parts of the economy, so that we can use resources for the management of risk, treating the infected and living assistances. So far, while the government planning and coordination needed improvement at the operational level, the government has listened, responded and addressed several basic areas already. We need a central braintrust and operating body of personnel to operate crises like this to avoid having to relearn or practice things.
Three, the social fabric needs to be maintained… any breakdown of servicing the people’s concerns for food and safety, or in the management of people’s confidence and moods, can lead to social unrest and looting, especially with conditions of fear in a pandemic, the speed of social media and the possible desire of political oppositions, both local and international, to create a change in the direction they want. Fortunately, while some critics and “think tanks” may desire to create disruptions, even the majority of the opposition is working with the mainstream to try to help navigate the country for the general good during this lockdown. And we have an asset in the ability of President Rodrigo Duterte to communicate on a deep emotional level with the larger population and keep their confidence in his management.
Unprecedented private and public sector cooperations. Major conglomerates like San Miguel Corp., SM Supermalls, Manuel V. Pangilinan, Ayala Corp., JG Summit Holdings, Jollibee Foods Corp., Alliance Global Group Inc. and Metrobank have pledged hundreds of millions in assistance for the health workers and medical teams, as well as in supporting salaries and benefits beyond those required by law. Grace periods have been given for mall rentals, amortizations to Pag-IBIG Fund and Bureau of Internal Revenue payments are postponed, among others. Many medium-sized companies and even small companies are doing the same without declaration. The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Management Association of the Philippines, Foreign Chambers, Anvil Business Club and Makati Business Club have pooled their resources and given suggestions to the government, as well as have their own programs for the public. The Federation of Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry has donated P100 million and is distributing over 200,000 packages of relief goods; and their members have individually also donated millions to the efforts. Local government units are showing their abilities in creative and logistic responses, not always aligned, but with good intent and some skill. This bodes well for the cities’ future when we are looking for new solutions for less life-or-death situations than this pandemic.
More is needed! Reengineer the Filipino! The extreme drop or total closure of the businesses for the month, possibly longer, will bankrupt or hurt both businesses and individuals well beyond what even the donations and reliefs can cover. We need to start thinking how to reactivate daily life in an orderly process soonest without hurting the quarantine efforts. This pandemic is a message not unlike the plagues in the Exodus. It is a message that we need to change or we will be drowned in the sea tides of the future. We need to restructure our enterprises, education and public services to move faster and well under more conditions. We need to reengineer our very culture to give more time in the study of skills and knowledge needed by our collective community, benchmarked to international standards and not what we can get away with. We need to train our managers in developing execution skills and managing by objectives. We need improved logistics to release the time of Filipinos for productive and family pursuits. Less time in entertainment and the creation of excuses, more on production instead of consumption, and more on planning and in doing than in armchair critiques. More on collective good instead of private wants. Otherwise any progress is always short term.
George Siy is a Wharton-educated industrialist, international trade practitioner and negotiator, serving as director of the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI). He has advised the Philippines and various organizations in trade negotiations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan and the United States.
New Worlds by IDSI aims to present frameworks based on a balance of economic theory, historical realities, ground success in real business and communities, and attempt for common good, culture and spirituality. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks (email@example.com).
**Also published in: https://www.manilatimes.net/2020/03/22/opinion/columnists/new-world-after-coronavirus-19-a-game-changer/704952/