WHATEVER the economic repercussions of government’s decision to ban travels to and from China and its special administrative regions will be pitted against the phantom risks of an outbreak. As of last count, mainland cases of the Wuhan coronavirus has reached 20,438, the death toll at 425 as of Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. The Philippines just had its first death on record, incidentally the first known fatality from the infection outside of China. He was the 44-year-old partner of the first identified case of infection.
Meantime, airlines have already canceled 306 flights, one can now imagine our tourism bloodline suddenly gone hypovolemic, with the number of Chinese tourist arrivals ranking second to Koreans.
Reports say that Cebu Pacific pegs losses to be at P3-4 billion if the crisis drags on for half a year. The Chinese lockdown hollowed out air transport to a void.
While China sluggishly moves economically with its escalating trade war with the United States, it is still the Philippines’ top trading partner, amounting to 18.8 percent of our total foreign trade or $16.43 billion in the first half of 2019. Our exports to China are at $4.62 billion.
The virus scare is an unfortunate segue to the Taal episode, which swept the agricultural sector to a staggering loss of P3.06 billion, according to the Department of Agriculture. Government had to herd around 15,000 families or about 66,000 individuals away from the danger zone. It had to build whole new villages for the evacuees.
Yet, despite this, the administration’s economic team thinks all these disruptions will only have “short-term” impact on the economy; visions of a more robust cashflow await toward the end of 2020. Economic leaders still eye a gross domestic product growth of 6.5-7.5 percent.
However, this projection came before the massive cancellation of aircraft movements. While the viral anxiety prevails, trading is on a standstill, the economy can only hear its own breathing.
The Department of Health had its heavy dose of reality check during the Senate hearing, while the public gets a glimpse of the missing links in matters of contact tracing and quarantine protocols. The agency hereon will have to get down to the nitty-gritty of the multitude of concerns, including allaying public anxiety.
Our economic managers, on the other hand, will have to return to the drawing table to see how we can pick up once the smoke clears. If only to realize its growth targets this year. Against all odds.