End of pandemic nearing

We’ve received a bit of good news last week from the World Health Organization. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the press that the world is in a better position to end the Covid-19 pandemic. In his own words, we are not there yet “but the end is in sight.”

This development is, indeed, welcome news. It means the world is about to enter a new phase in the fight against Covid-19. A concerted action against the spread of the virus is succeeding and people from all walks of life can soon resume their interrupted way of life.

The WHO is not about to declare the end of the global pandemic just yet. But latest health data are encouraging to everybody, especially to policymakers. New Covid-19 cases worldwide are declining. Per the WHO report, the number of reported cases dropped 28 percent to 3.1 million during the week ending September 11, after a 12-percent drop the week before.

People, however, must still exercise caution. While reported global cases last week declined to their lowest level since March 2020, the virus can still strike and disrupt economic activities if people lower their guard.

It is foolish to think that Covid-19 will die a natural death. On the contrary, it will remain in our midst and we can only minimize its spread, like the ordinary flu that bothers us when there is a significant change in the temperature.

The Philippines should still strive to vaccinate all the so-called most at-risk groups, including senior citizens and health workers. The testing and sequencing of the virus, as the WHO suggested, must be sustained. This means more investments in the health-care sector and a bigger budget for the Department of Health.

WHO’s Tedros believes the world can end the pandemic altogether “if all countries, manufacturers, communities and individuals step up and seize this opportunity.”

The pandemic has taught us many lessons, some of them painful. Many lost their loved ones to Covid-19 while millions of our workers lost their jobs at the height of the pandemic. Our small entrepreneurs, too, suffered because of mobility restrictions. But through it all, we adapted and survived. Many employees kept their jobs through work-from-home arrangements. I must say that this set-up worked pretty well—the lack of transportation modes during the pandemic was never a factor for those working within the confines of their homes.

New challenges

Adapting to the new normal is presenting challenges to both our returning workers and students. Traffic congestion is already back despite the still limited number of buses plying their routes.

The Covid-19 interruption and the ensuing traffic jams support the argument that, perhaps, we should start decongesting Metro Manila by encouraging the establishment of new cities or communities and industries outside the capital region. By doing so, we can stop the labor migration to Metro Manila.

Infrastructure projects like new railways, toll roads and bridges in and out of Metro Manila will certainly help alleviate traffic congestion in the capital region. For one, the proposed 15.56-kilometer Metro Rail Transit Line 4 that will run from San Juan City to Taytay in Rizal province is a timely infrastructure project.

Everybody is aware of the monstrous traffic jam along Ortigas Avenue, where a commuter ride to Antipolo and Taytay can take three hours. The proposed MRT 4, with funding from the Asian Development Bank, hopes to reduce traffic congestion, and travel time from one to three hours to less than half an hour. This is a big relief for our weary commuters. Like other infrastructure projects, the MRT 4 will lead to the further development of eastern Metro Manila and the neighboring province of Rizal.

But infrastructure projects tend to lure people from the provinces and relocate to Metro Manila. These projects have their own capacities and may, sooner or later, be unable to meet the increased traffic demand. The traffic situation in the capital region has prompted ADB to describe Metro Manila as “one of the most dense and congested natural cities in the Asian region.”

The pandemic has opened our eyes to innovations and made us adapt to new working conditions. It may also be telling us to drop some of the old normal and try new development approaches.

For comments, send e-mail to mbv_secretariat@vistaland.com.ph or visit www.mannyvillar.com.ph