Finance chief says PH economy to remain strong amid nCoV threat, other challenges

Robie de Guzman   •   February 6, 2020   •   359

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Finance (DOF) has expressed confidence that the challenges posed by the global spread of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), the eruption of Taal Volcano and the cases of African Swine Fever (ASF) are not enough to drag the country’s economic growth below the government’s target.

In a joint hearing conducted by the Senate committees on health and finance on Tuesday, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the administration’s economic teams stands by its target of attaining a gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of 6.5 % to 7.5% this year even amid the headwinds from 2019-nCoV and other challenges.

“At this moment, it is reasonable to expect that while these developments might slightly restrain our economic expansion, these threats are not enough to force a dramatic reduction in our growth estimates,” Dominguez said.

While the hearing was called to study ways of mitigating the impact of the nCoV outbreak on the economy, Dominguez said this development should be assessed together with the effects of the recent Taal Volcano eruption and the ASF outbreak to determine whether these require revisiting economic growth targets this year.

“While these developments may dampen our growth somewhat, domestic tourism is expected to increase as more people would likely prefer to travel within our borders, thus boosting domestic consumption,” he said.

“With our ‘Build, Build Build’ program firing on all cylinders this year, complemented by a benign inflation rate and a stable monetary policy, we expect the economy at large to sustain its momentum,” he added.

The Finance chief also stated that with the nCoV outbreak still on its early stages, it would be difficult for the economic team to estimate its potential economic costs at this time.

“We are consoled by the observation that the virus has limited local transmissions outside China,” he said.

“A significant impact on the economy will most likely be centered in the tourism sector. The travel and tourism industries around the globe are taking a hit as a result of the various levels of travel bans imposed by national governments and of voluntary decisions of airlines to cut flights to and from China,” he added.

Dominguez also said that the country may also suffer a short-term slight decline in exports, particularly in the sale of electronics and auto parts, due to a possible disruption in the global supply chain as a result of the temporary factory closures in China, which is the country’s top trading partner.

“Incidentally, our top imports from China such as steel, machinery and petroleum are products that do not seem to carry the nCoV virus, though we will continue to take all necessary precautions,” he said.

To address the possible temporary decline in the exports of electronics and auto parts, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has committed to work closely with affected Chinese and China-based companies, which will be looking to strengthen their operations by adding a production site outside of China, Dominguez said.

Dominguez added that what happened during the previous outbreaks of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), H1N1, and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERSCoV) might give authorities a glimpse of how the nCoV could impact the economy.

As for the ASF outbreak, Dominguez noted that the government has been successful in intercepting contaminated pork imported from other countries through the Bureau of Customs’ anti-smuggling campaign and the Bureau of Animal Industry’s meat inspection efforts.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) has also been strictly enforcing biosecurity measures and setting up more quarantine checkpoints, as well as providing more disinfection facilities to manage, contain, and control the spread of the ASF, he said.

As for the impact of the latest Taal Volcano eruption, the Finance chief said that an explosive eruption could still happen, and “unless and until this actually happens, we can only speculate on the full impact of this episode on the economy.”

As of January 20, estimates from the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) show that the total foregone income in the economic sectors owing to the eruption could reach P6.66 billion pesos or 0.26 percent of the 2018 gross regional domestic product of the CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) corridor.

“The bulk of the foregone income comes from agriculture and fisheries sector, services, and industry,” Dominguez said. “Short of a major eruption, the damage to our crops and the challenges of dislocated communities to which the government will continue to respond, will not significantly impact our overall growth projections.”

He said the DA and the concerned local government units are expediting the release of production support, agri-fishery aid and livelihood assistance, and cash or zero-interest loan assistance programs to the affected farmers and fisherfolk, as well as the implementation of the recovery and rehabilitation plans for the affected areas.

Hukou Waterfalls scenic spot officially open to public amid epidemic

Jeck Deocampo   •   February 24, 2020

The spectacular Hukou Waterfalls, which sits on the border between north China’s Shanxi Province and northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, was officially open to the public on Monday after being closed for a month due to the novel coronavirus pneumonia outbreak.

Monday is the traditional “Dragon Head-raising Day”, which falls on the second day of the second month on the Chinese lunar calendar.

The dragon was traditionally regarded in China as the deity in charge of rain, a key element in ancient agriculture. Dragon Head-raising Day signals the start of ample rain for spring crops and is considered an auspicious day.

Affected by the melting snow in the upper reaches of the Yellow River, the Hukou Waterfalls has resumed its momentum of rushing and roaring after a winter. The huge volume of water rushing down in this section of the Yellow River forms a spectacular waterfall group. As the water flow is mixed with the rapid fall of sand, it has created deafening noise and immense water mist, forming a magnificent scene.

In order to effectively prevent and control the coronavirus epidemic and to ensure the safety of tourists, Hukou Waterfalls administrators will implement mandatory inspections and real-time control of the total number of tourists entering the scenic spot, and ask tourists to enter it in different periods of time.

“We have standardized the registration of our staff members who are back to work and formulated a detailed epidemic prevention work plan. We will let our staff have meals separately and have also purchased sufficient quantities of epidemic prevention materials,” said Dou Feng, head of the Communist Party Affairs Department at Hukou Waterfalls Culture and Tourism Co., Ltd.

To pay tribute to the front-line medical workers against the epidemic, the Hukou Waterfalls will be open to medical workers nationwide for free from Monday to the end of the year.

The Hukou Waterfall is the largest along the Yellow River and the second largest in China. Its name, which means “mouth of a kettle” in Chinese, derives from its resemblance to water pouring down from a huge kettle.

Five new drugs in clinical trials for COVID-19 treatment: Chinese official

UNTV News   •   February 21, 2020

Five new drugs are in clinical trials as researchers and Chinese authorities are launching more systematic vaccine tests for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), officials said Friday.

Some antiviral drugs and traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) have been proven effective in treating COVID-19 patients, Chen Shifei, deputy director of the National Medical Products Administration, told a press conference in Beijing.

“In the current clinical treatment, doctors on the frontline have incorporated a combination of pharmaceutical drugs and TCMs that are safe and effective in their medication plans. That includes some broad-spectrum antiviral drugs and Chinese patent medicines previously approved to hit the market, as well as some widely used hospital formulations. It is learned that more than 80 kinds of TCM formulations have been used in the diagnosis and treatment of patients and these medicines have proven quite effective,” he said.

While paying the utmost attention to medical safety and quality, the National Medical Products Administration has accelerated the approval procedure of new drugs, according to Chen.

“Five new drugs have entered clinical trials for COVID-19 treatment, and so far the trials are progressing smoothly,” he said but did not disclose the names of the drugs.

“We have taken precedence for innovative and generic drugs that have been thoroughly researched and listed as key projects for treating COVID-19, prioritizing their examination and approval process so that doctors can choose to use the drugs for clinical treatment on the precondition of ensuring patients’ safety,” Chen continued.

The official added that the development of vaccines is in the pipeline.

“For vaccines that are safe, effective and controllable in quality, the National Medical Products Administration will race against time to conduct technical reviews and authorize permission to let them join the fight against the viral pneumonia,” said Chen.

China has been affected by the COVID-19 epidemic since December, with the epicenter in Wuhan City in the central province of Hubei.

By the end of Thursday, the new virus had infected more than 75,400 and killed over 2,200 nationwide, while more than 18,200 have been discharged from hospital after being cured.

CCTV via Reuters Connect

Japan claims its actions over cruise ship are appropriate as public criticism grows

UNTV News   •   February 20, 2020

The Japanese government on Thursday (February 20) defended their efforts to tackle the novel coronavirus’s rapid spread and the quarantine operation that has sparked criticism of authorities just months before Tokyo is due to host the Summer Olympics.

Japan has well over half the known cases outside China due to the ship infections and the rapid spread of the virus and the quarantine operation has sparked criticism of authorities just months before Tokyo is due to host the Summer Olympics.

Infectious disease specialist Kentaro Iwata of Japan’s Kobe University Hospital, who volunteered to help aboard the ship, described the infection control effort on board as “completely inadequate,” and said basic protocols had not been followed.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that after measures were put in place to isolate passengers on Feb. 5, the number of new infections is now almost at zero.

Two elderly coronavirus-infected passengers from a cruise ship moored near Tokyo have died and two more government officials have been infected, the Japanese government said on Thursday, as more passengers disembarked after two weeks’ quarantine.

More than 620 of the passengers on the Diamond Princess liner have been infected on the ship, which has been quarantined since Feb. 3, initially with about 3,700 people on board.

(Production: Kohei Miyazaki, Hideto Sakai)

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