Hunger, economic downturn amid COVID-19

"The bad news does not end there."



The bad news just doesn't seem to stop coming.

The latest survey by the Social Weather Stations shows that the number of Filipino families who experienced hunger nearly doubled in the first quarter. This is a worrisome development after two-and-a half months of lockdown in almost the entire country due to the coronavirus.

With lockdowns and travel restrictions implemented across the archipelago to stem the spread of the contagion, business and commerce have been halted, adversely affecting millions of workers, especially those from small- and medium-enterprises.

The poll results conducted among 4,010 working-age Filipinos showed that 16.7 percent, or around 4.2 million nationwide, experienced hunger due to lack of food to eat at least once in the past three months.

This figure is nearly double the 8.8 percent or around 2.1 million families reported in December 2019. This is also the highest hunger rate since the 22 percent or around 4.8 million families posted in September 2014.

Hunger among poor and disadvantaged Filipinos is part of a worldwide trend. In April, the United Nations’ World Food Programme estimated said that the number of people facing hunger worldwide could double this year to 265 million due to the restrictions linked to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The bad news does not end there.

The National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) reported recently that the Philippine economy lost an estimated P1.1 trillion in the agriculture, industry and services sectors during the first 45 days of the COVID-19 lockdown.

The economic losses are equivalent to 5.6 percent of gross domestic product. These were most felt in the National Capital Region, the country's services hub, as well as in Calabarzon where industrial activity stopped when the lockdown was imposed in Luzon and other parts of the country since mid-March to contain the spread of the disease.

Neda estimates showed that during the 45-day lockdown, the country's agriculture sector incurred P94.3 million in losses; the industry sector, P537.7 billion; and services, P589.7 billion.

In Metro Manila, the country's political and business center, economic losses amounted to P589.3 billion, with the biggest chunk of foregone revenues coming from the services sector at P454.8 billion.

Calabarzon suffered the second-biggest output losses among the country's 17 regions, with P265.1 billion. Since it hosts sprawling economic zones whose operations were halted during the lockdown, industry losses in Calabarzon reached P244.5 billion, exceeding NCR's P134.4 billion.

Faced with such a dire situation, when can we expect the COVID-19 pandemic to end?

Promising cures for COVID-19

Everyone is eager to know when a possible vaccine or cure for COVID-19 will be available.

At this point, research laboratories in various countries are racing against time to come up with a vaccine that would provide immunity from the deadly infection.

One of the best prospects appears to be the vaccine trial being conducted by Moderna, a biotech company in the United States that has partnered with the National Institutes of Health.

Early results indicate that participants from Moderna's vaccine trial developed antibodies against the virus.

If future studies go well, the company's vaccine could be available to the public as early as January, the company said.

This is only Phase 1 of their clinical trial, which typically studies a small number of people and focuses on whether a vaccine is safe and elicits an immune response.

Moderna, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of eight developers worldwide doing human clinical trials with a vaccine against the coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Two others, Pfizer and Inovio, are also in the United States, one is at the University of Oxford in Britain, and four are in China.

The US Food and Drug Administration has cleared the company to begin Phase 2 trials, which typically involve several hundred of people, and Moderna plans to start large-scale clinical trials, known as Phase 3 trials, in July, which typically involve tens of thousands of people.

Meanwhile, a drug being tested by scientists at China’s prestigious Peking University could shorten the recovery time for those infected and even offer short-term immunity from the virus, researchers said.

The drug being tested by the university’s Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics has been successful at the animal testing stage.

The drug uses neutralizing antibodies—produced by the human immune system to prevent the virus infecting cells— which the laboratory isolated from the blood of 60 recovered patients. The drug should be ready for use later this year after clinical trials in Australia and other countries. China already has five potential coronavirus vaccines at the human trial stage, a health official said last week.

But the promising initial results on vaccine or cure for the coronavirus is not likely to be available this year. In January, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said it would take about 12 to 18 months to get a vaccine on the market.

What's clear at this point is that the world would still be at tenterhooks waiting for a COVID-19 at least for the rest of the year. Until then, it's best to adhere to what experts are saying about keeping safe from the dreaded disease.

Topics: Ernesto Hilario , Social Weather Stations , hunger , economic downturn , coronavirus disease 2019 , COVID-19
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