| Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash
As the end of 2021 comes closer and as we near the two-year mark since the pandemic started, we are seeing encouraging indicators that the world is starting to wake up to some form of “normalcy.”
For instance, the United States has opened its doors last Nov. 8. It lifted a travel ban imposed on 33 nations, including the United Kingdom, the European Union, South Africa, China, and Brazil. Fully vaccinated visitors from previously banned countries can now enter the US, with thousands seen arriving at airports such as the JFK in New York.
US land borders to Canada and Mexico have also been opened, with leisure travelers allowed to cross by land or water. Airline companies reported a surge in bookings from the time the lifting of restrictions was first announced, with shares of several airline companies also rising.
With the holiday season just around the corner, travel is coming back to life with people in many parts of the world. They are raring to go on “revenge travel” after being virtually locked up at home for almost two years.
France, Italy, Spain, Finland, Germany, Israel, and many others have opened their doors to foreign visitors with certain conditions. The primary requirement is that travelers have been fully vaccinated and show a negative COVID-19 test result within three days of arrival.
We discussed with Presidential Adviser Joey Concepcion about many Filipino-Americans wanting to go back to the Philippines and asking to reduce — if not lift quarantine restrictions. Such as those fully vaccinated with a negative COVID-19 test within three days from arrival.
During our meeting, we introduced Concentric by Ginkgo Bioworks – a Boston-based company headed by our friend, former White House Deputy National Security adviser Matt Pottinger. JFK International Airport and the San Francisco International Airport use their technology for “pooled testing” or bulk testing of passengers. It is with near-real-time detection of new COVID-19 variants, in conjunction with the US CDC.
“With the holiday season just around the corner, travel is coming back to life with people in many parts of the world. They are raring to go on “revenge travel” after being virtually locked up at home for almost two years.”
We are working on setting up a pilot project with Concentric and Joey Concepcion and Transportation Secretary Art Tugade, and Philippine Airlines for the possibility of conducting a test of the technology to speed up the reopening of our borders. With real-time COVID-19 test results and quarantines, we could lift for fully vaccinated passengers and those who test negative.
The COVID-19 vaccines have accelerated the move towards normalcy everywhere in the world, which is why the government is not letting up on efforts to vaccinate 70 percent of the Filipino population within the year. To date, we have fully vaccinated over 31 million Filipinos, while more than 37 million have received their first dose against COVID-19 – with a total of 66 million vaccine doses administered. Last Thursday, the country also recorded the highest number of inoculations at 1.2 million.
Secretary Charlie Galvez also bared a plan to vaccinate at least 15 million Filipinos, including minors, over three days from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, with covered courts in universities and colleges and gyms and arenas to be converted into vaccination centers.
We’re pleased to see that the number of cases continues to decline, with many places, including Metro Manila, now placed under a more relaxed Alert Level 2 status. More businesses aside from restaurants and dining places are now allowed to open, such as cinemas and event places but not yet at full capacity and still adhering to minimum health standards such as masking and distancing.
Hospital occupancy rates are beginning to show a downtrend, and the situation could get even better with the anti-COVID-19 pills that they could take at home. Such as the one developed by Pfizer, with clinical trials showing that it is 89 percent effective in lowering the risk of hospitalization in high-risk cases. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says the pills “have the potential to save patients’ lives, reduce the severity of COVID-19 infections and eliminate up to nine out of 10 hospitalizations.”
” …but in reality, this pandemic has undoubtedly given us the realization of the truly important things: family, love for country, and, in no uncertain terms, gratitude for the gift of life.”
The country’s third-quarter GDP has also been encouraging, with 7.1 percent growth year-on-year. As Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua said, “We are clearly on track to a strong recovery” as long as there is no unexpected new risk like a more potent variant or a global surge. Businessmen such as Philippine Exporters Confederation (Philexport) chairman George Barcelon consider the third-quarter performance as positive and are upbeat that this will carry through to next year.
Economists have also upgraded their economic outlook on the Philippines this year and in 2022, such as Goldman Sachs with a 4-5 percent growth projection for 2021, the same as Secretary Chua’s target. Some are even projecting above 5.5 percent growth, with the easing of restrictions seen to boost economic activity, especially during the holidays. With Christmas just around the corner, many are hopeful that their celebration this year will be as close to “normal” as possible.
I know many of us to have friends and relatives who did not make it during this pandemic, but for those of us who survived this pandemic, we can only count our blessings and thank God for His continued protection. It may sound like a motherhood statement, but in reality, this pandemic has undoubtedly given us the realization of the truly important things: family, love for country, and, in no uncertain terms, gratitude for the gift of life.