Omicron threat looms despite lower daily cases
The Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant of SARS-CoV-2 was first reported in South Africa on November 24, 2021. The Omicron variant was subsequently designated a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) on November 26, 2021.
A statement released by the WHO last November 28, 2021 suggests that the Omicron variant may be more transmissible even compared to the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant which caused a global COVID-19 case surge in mid-2021. However, it is still largely unclear if the Omicron variant causes a more severe disease compared to previous variants or if it is capable of rendering current COVID-19 vaccines ineffective.
As of December 6, 2021, no cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in the Philippines although twelve (12) COVID-positive samples were flagged to undergo genomic sequencing.
On December 8, 2021, the Philippines reported 370 new COVID-19 cases bringing the country’s total active cases to 12,510 as per the Department of Health (DOH), a significant decline since the case surge experienced last August to September 2021 even despite looser mobility restrictions. The country has also administered 94,236,990 COVID-19 vaccine doses in total as of December 8, 2021.
In a media forum held on December 6, 2021, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire claimed that the Philippines and the NCR were at minimal risk and low risk for COVID-19 respectively as the two-week growth rate stood at -57% and the average daily attack rate stood at 0.67 cases for every 100,000 individuals.
Philippine economy showing signs of recovery
Philippine Gross Domestic Product (GDP) managed to grow by 7.1% in the third quarter of 2021 even despite a COVID-19 case surge due to the spread of the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant last August and September 2021. In its October 2021 East Asia and Pacific Economic Update, the World Bank raised its GDP growth forecast for the Philippines to 5.3% on the strength of improved local economic conditions given progressing vaccinations and declining COVID-19 cases.
Meanwhile, Philippine headline inflation eased to 4.2% in November 2021 compared to 4.6% in October 2021 led by the slowdown in inflation for the food and non-alcoholic beverages index to 3.9% for the month of November 2021 against 5.3% for the month prior. This is slightly above the 3.0% (+/- 1.0%) annual headline inflation rate targeted by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).
Last November 18, 2021, the BSP also decided to keep the interest rate on its overnight reverse repurchase facility at 2.0% and interest rates on its overnight deposit and lending facilities at 1.5% and 2.5% respectively. As per its Q3 2021 Inflation Report, the BSP expressed its intentions of maintain an accommodative stance on monetary policy so long as it is appropriate given the manageable inflation environment and uncertain growth outlook.
Philippine Household Final Consumption Expenditure (HFCE) grew by 7.1% for the third quarter of 2021 against 7.3% for the quarter prior on higher household spending on food and non-alcoholic beverages (+3.0%), miscellaneous goods and services (+8.4%), transport (+13.5%), health (+18.8%), and education (+14.5%) as consumer confidence increased alongside loosening mobility restrictions.
Philippine national debt grew to PhP12.0 trillion in October 2021 from PhP10.3 trillion in January 2021 as the National Government sought to reinforce its COVID-19 war-chest.
Bourse recovers as Omicron fears subside
On December 9, 2021, the Philippine Stock Exchange Index (PSEi) improved by 179.73 or 2.6% to 7,234.92 compared to 7,055.19 on December 3, 2021, the last day of trading the week prior. The rebound comes after several days of volatility as investors reacted to Omicron variant fears.
Total approved foreign investments also declined to PhP16.82 billion in the third quarter of 2021 against PhP22.50 billion in the quarter prior (down 25.2%) as foreign investors remained cautious despite improving economic conditions given the approaching 2022 Philippine presidential elections.
Featured Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention