Opinion

SONA in a pandemic

SONA in a pandemic

With coronavirus disease 2019 cases in the country breaching the 80,000 mark yesterday and a humanitarian and public health crisis unfolding among locally stranded individuals, responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to take center stage in President Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address today.

The health risks posed by the coronavirus is so serious that until last night, there was no certainty that the President would push through with delivering his penultimate SONA inside the Batasang Pambansa together with congressional leaders and a select audience.

Lockdowns imposed to curb the COVID contagion have forced businesses to shut down for good while many others are foundering and in desperate need of rescue. From home-based micro enterprises to big businesses that provide jobs to thousands, entrepreneurs and large-scale investors are waiting for a stimulus package whose funding source is also uncertain. Millions have been rendered jobless or underemployed, with no relief in sight in the coming months for their sectors or specialized skills.

The pandemic has aggravated poverty and wiped out many gains in the past year. With two years left in his term, President Duterte is expected to address the public health and economic crisis that could still deepen in the absence of a cure or vaccine for COVID-19.

In the short term, capabilities for testing and contact tracing still need a considerable boost. Concerns persist about the country’s readiness for the blended learning mode in the new school year, which is set to start in just a month.

Apart from the economic stimulus package, people are expecting measures to boost long-term preparedness for pandemics. Previous outbreaks of killer diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome largely spared the Philippines, which might have lulled the country into complacency in dealing with pandemics. Now the dire consequences are glaringly evident. There is no room for distractions in this crisis. The nation awaits the next steps in the SONA.