The `new normal` during and after the Covid-19 pandemic

August 5, 2020 | By: Arch. Benjamin K. Panganiban, Jr. (as published in the The Manila Times last August 4, 2020))

WHILE Filipinos are adjusting to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, the consensus is to observe social distancing as highly recommended by the World Health Organization while a vaccine is still being researched and developed.

Social distancing, as the world had gotten to know, is the appropriate distancing people do between one another so the virus will not spread easily, and hopefully will die out naturally.

What happens now and even after the lockdown has been lifted? I was in a discussion with a group of architects through online general membership meetings and we were discussing the scenarios that may possibly happen. I mentioned to them some concerns and observations that might be implemented by the government, the business sector and even the national and local government units.

A few things were laid on the table for the architects and those in the construction industry to comprehend. First is that the medical field and those related to healthcare should invest in hospitals and clinics. In fact, compensation of workers in the medical profession such as doctors, nurses and other health professionals should be increased or be better so that these people will not leave the country for greener pastures.

Local government units should do a selective lifting of the community quarantine on the barangays under their jurisdiction and let each barangay work as one, checking their own constituents before the lockdown will be lifted. It would turn out to be a block by block or house to house contact tracing until the whole barangay is safe. Then the lifting of that barangay’s lockdown will happen. In short, isolate those barangays that are identified by the mass rapid testing as high-risk. If necessary, some barangays or villages should be in isolation if they have Covid-19 positive patients. The rallying cry here is “saving lives will save our livelihood.”

So this is where the government comes into the picture to help the masses. This time, the government would have provided more focused efforts on their social amelioration by barangays, and monitor it well. The new normal will be more lockdowns in barangays with high Covid-19 cases, complemented by more arrests by the government on people who are “pasaway” (disobedient). At this point, the Department of Interior and Local Government becomes the lead agency on the localized quarantine and contact tracing efforts.

By then, the Philippine Gross Domestic Product will be on a decline, and the economic growth may be hovering between one and three percent, or even a negative growth.

In the efforts of the government to stimulate the economy, they have to infuse money and jumpstart the construction industry, provide work for the masses and assist the small and medium enterprises recover their businesses. All forms of soft loans and loan facilities, credit extensions and even financial solvency should be considered and implemented.

Banks should relax their regulatory funding and recovery policies so as to encourage businesses to prosper. The Bangko Central ng Pilipinas will have to assess their approach on cutting their policy rates during the pandemic and its aftermath. The Social Security System, Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhiHealth) and the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-Ibig) should work double time to address the needs of its members, especially the less fortunate with less bureaucracy.

In the Southeast Asian region, it is expected that the social distancing should be stricter and not lifted. During the early part of the Covid-19 outbreak, Singapore still allowed its citizens to work while the Philippines opted for a lockdown. Now look at how the Covid-19 positive patients of Singapore has exponentially grown while the Philippines has slowed the growth of Covid-19. It can be said that the Philippines acted swiftly. However, we are still the second in the region in terms of Covid-19 positive cases.

And yet, all the Asia-Pacific countries are expecting their economies to have a slower growth rate this year while the Philippine currency ironically remains stable and strong at the moment; another pat on the back to the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The new normal for the Philippines will be accepting the fact that the whole year will be a downward growth. Businesses will not be expected to recover quickly and the population will have to adjust to new digital communications and work schedules. Transportation systems will strictly be reduced and regulated, there will be no riding in tandem and operation of public utilities will be halved. Construction workers will either be re-scheduled or re-assigned elsewhere, and real estate condominiums, will not be able to peak this year.

The tourism industry will be affected tremendously, new insurance policies will have to be re-configured with Covid-19 in mind, and the manufacturing sector will be forced to operate.

Ironically, the field of industrial design will be on the uptrend, online businesses and food deliveries will prosper, roads will be easily traversed only for food and service deliveries, and the “Build, Build, Build” projects of the national government will have to proceed as scheduled under contract. Manufacturing businesses will have to start grinding and processing again, the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) will again re-start and re-invent themselves eventually; professional groups like the UAP and the Philippine Medical Association will have to step up in being innovative to help rebuild the economy while more medical hospitals and even the crematorium businesses will hopefully sprout.

The bottom line is all businesses will tighten up amid the uncertainties instead of spending and looking forward to the year 2021 as the start of a better business environment.

And as what my good friends Archs. Joey Rivas and Ram Aurelio have mentioned to us so many weeks back is for UAP to prepare and institutionalize the new protocols and guidelines, such as the office environmental protocols and working guidelines; design standard guidelines for building structures, construction environment safety protocols and guidelines to guide UAP members; and preventive/safety measures post in public areas. All these are in anticipation of a post-Covid-19 scenario.


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