By Jenina P. Ibañez, January 19, 2022; Business World

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said the private sector should help increase productivity as the Philippines recovers from the effects of the pandemic and pursues high-income status.

“(An) issue I want to bring up — which requires significant support from the private sector — is enhancing or increasing productivity,” he said at an event organized by the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines on Tuesday.

“In the next two years, the Philippines will likely enter the upper middle-income country status. That is a level of development that can only be sustained and bring us to high-income level in the next generation if we innovate.”

He said if the country simply assembles products and does not develop innovative production, then it will “hardly” become a high-income country.

Improving productivity involves enhancing human capital development, health and education outcomes, logistics, factory and office business processes, and governance, Mr. Chua said.

The government has been rolling out the fourth phase of its national action plan against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Meanwhile, the government’s pandemic-response scores for November rose as infection management improved at the time, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Undersecretary Rosemarie G. Edillon said.

NEDA last year launched the government’s pandemic scorecard, which measures the country’s infection management, vaccine rollout, and socioeconomic recovery during this fourth phase.

Ms. Edillon in a presentation on Tuesday said the country had a 6.98 score out of 9 in November, higher than the 4.9 in October and 4.42 in September.

Infection management jumped to 2.82 from 1.44 in October, while the vaccine rollout score moved up to 1.72 from 1.28. Meanwhile, the economic recovery score inched up to 2.44 from 2.19.

“We are still battling the Omicron but we are more confident now actually that since we have been here before and we know that this is something that we can weather,” she said.

She said she expects better numbers for December but some reduction in January due to the Omicron-driven surge in COVID-19 cases.

Ms. Edillon added that it is too early for the government to revise its economic targets for 2022.

Government economic managers expect the gross domestic product to expand by 7-9% this year. They expect weekly productivity losses of P3 billion due to the shift to the more restrictive Alert Level 3 in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces, a response to the surge in COVID-19 cases after the holidays.

“There’s still a lot of developments that can happen, hopefully very positive developments at that,” Ms. Edillon said. “There’s still enough time to catch up.”

Meanwhile, ING Bank N.V. Manila Senior Economist Nicholas Antonio T. Mapa said revenge spending stopped as COVID-19 cases shot up, although noted that authorities have been downplaying the impact of the latest surge amid lower hospitalization rates.

“Officials are also extra confident of still achieving the 7-9% growth target this year, pointing to past experiences where GDP managed to crest 7% during a similar surge,” he said in an e-mail.

“And although metrics do suggest a lower hospitalization rate so far, one cannot dismiss the fact that the recovery momentum has been disrupted by the current spike in cases.”

Mr. Mapa said the surge in cases would result in household spending shifting to healthcare goods. Productivity will also be reduced after thousands of workers caught the virus, he said.

“All these disruptions may be overcome but we need to brace for a potential pullback in expectations and sentiment from both firms and consumers alike.”

The daily COVID-19 tally went up to 28,471 cases on Tuesday for a total active case count of 284,458.