" When will the sun and the winds start blowing more kindly upon this plagued earth?"
How much longer will this take? This is the question in the minds and hearts of most everyone you meet these days.
The disruption the coronavirus, whatever appellation we use, has been universal, not only in terms of territorial outreach with almost a hundred countries affected, but almost all forms of livelihood.
There was a lot of crying last week inside our Philippine Airlines office building as the flag carrier implemented a retrenchment and business restructuring program. Some 200 people found themselves without jobs, while a hundred opted to avail themselves of an early retirement package.
Of course it was not entirely due to the coronavirus. The flag carrier has been in the red for the last two years. The virus proved to be the last straw.
Many flights have been canceled, and this is only the beginning, unless the sun and the winds start blowing more kindly upon this plagued earth.
But PAL is not alone. Hindi siya nag-iisa. Cathay Pacific shed blood, and plenty of it—27,000 jobs on forced leave earlier. First the unrest in the former crown colony, now a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China, took its toll. Then the virus that began in the center of the country came as coup de grace.
Lufthansa, Germany’s airline, has suspended almost half of its flights to every corner of the globe. I wonder if Alitalia still flies,
In Taiwan, EVAirlines which used to maintain four flights daily from Taoyuan to the Philippines has shed off one, the evening flight that leaves Taiwan and comes back from Manila in the early morning of the following day. The aircraft used by both EVAir and China Airlines have become smaller owing to less passengers. PAL is down to a solitary flight. The budget carriers have yet to resume their flights since the short-lived travel ban. And we were hoping to inaugurate another Clark flight, as well as a new Taipei-Davao route later this year. That too is now in limbo.
For the month of April, Taiwan’s flag carrier, China Airlines, has already announced the cancellation of 6,500 international flights.
Last Sunday, Taoyuan airport was desolate. So many airline counters were down to skeletal staff. There was only one customs X-ray machine being manned, because there were too few passengers. The duty-free shop attendants looked glum.
It took me only a few minutes to get to my car from immigration to baggage carousel, past Customs, with only our flight disgorging passengers in an otherwise busy late afternoon.
Taiwan’s legislature quickly passed an emergency assistance package aimed at alleviating the plight of small and medium-scale businesses affected by the economic downturn, mostly of tourism-based companies.
Travel agents across Taiwan have a pained cri de coeur: How much longer? Some have said their operations will last only until June, unless some kind of miracle kills the coronavirus which they still refer to as the Wuhan virus.
Their health minister has been meeting the press each and every day, being absolutely transparent about the number of infected patients, and what government is doing. All kinds of precaution are being done, and the information comes freely and regularly, staving panic among a well-disciplined population. But the economy is taking a hit as well.
As are Italy and France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe. And here is Asia too, with the fabled Angkor Wat in Cambodia practically deserted for the last two months, and running, at what is supposed to be peak season. So is our Boracay, and Palawan, and Bohol.
The hotel industry in the country is down to 50-percent room occupancy, probably worse for the mom-and-pop resorts that depend on the budget travelers, both foreign and domestic. Taxicabs are empty as well. The restaurant business which has always been a flourishing enterprise, is reeling with empty seats. Hardly anyone goes to the cinema. The retail outlets in our usually packed malls are down on their knees, even as the rent keeps going on like a taxi meter.
The tourism industry is pitching for domestic travel, decrying the cancellation of festivals and events that draw the local crowd, but then again, how do they allay fears of infection from a populace that feeds on one or two additional bad news each day from new Covid patients?
Manufacturing is in tenterhooks, with global supply chains discombobulated. How can they continue operations if the parts they import from China do not come in? Soon they will have to lay off their workers, heaven forbid.
Yet heaven alone has the answer as to when the hemorrhage affecting everyone will stop. How much longer, only heaven knows at this point.
Late Monday night, as we watched CNN report on the aftermath of an oil price war occasioned by disagreement between Saudi Arabia and Moscow on how best to deal with the price situation, the indices were showing a sharp 7-percent drop, with the oil and travel industry stock prices down by as much as 20 percent or more.
Oil prices are now in the 33 dollar-per-barrel level, when just a week ago, we were writing about 50 dollars per barrel. How much longer?
The monetary policy makers all over the world, hardened international bankers and economists are wondering if lowering interest rates would still work, whether the usual monetary tools they employ can turn the tide against supply chain disruptions that will trigger in the end a downturn in consumption.
They appeal for fiscal stimulus from central governments, but how will the heavily-indebted nations finance these stimuli? Would the inability of monetary policies to stanch the bleeding lead next to a debt crisis if governments, heavily pressed to answer popular needs, instead borrow more to stimulate economic activity?
How much nicer it would be for writers to give some good news at times as parlous as these. But we cannot.
We ourselves cry: How much longer?