When COVID-19 first struck and was later declared a global pandemic, we all thought that it would go away in two years’ time at the most and that everything would return to normal.
By next week or on Jan.30 to be exact, we will officially enter the third year of the pandemic. Many have completed their vaccinations, even receiving their boosters. Yet, we remain in the dark as to why, despite having been vaccinated, observing safety protocols such as wearing of face masks and maintaining social distancing, we still get infected and worse, some still die because of the virus.
Uncertainties remain. One day, the infection rates go down. Months later, when people start to relax and go out of their homes, infections go up again. Governments are already at a loss as to how to deal with this problem. Lockdowns no longer work. Nor does contact tracing. A number of asymptomatic infected individuals, knowing that they are fully vaccinated, go about their business not knowing that they are already transmitting the virus. Community transmission makes contact tracing no longer reliable as a tool to prevent the spread of the virus.
Some authorities are saying that maybe, we should just treat COVID-19 like flu. Something that will never go away, something that will infect people even if they get flu shots yearly. Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that influenza kills 290,000 to 650,000 people per year, and these numbers vary each year depending on the strains that are circulating and how many people get flu shots.
According to an article in health.com, certain influenza strains are more severe than others and there are years where there are big genetic shifts, producing a very different virus. The flu virus, it said, is always changing, sometimes into a nastier strain.
The COVID-19 virus, just like the flu virus, is mutating. In an article published by Johns Hopkins Medicine, it said that it is the nature of RNA viruses, such as the coronavirus, to evolve and change gradually, and that geographic separation tends to result in genetically distinct variants. All influenza viruses consist of single-stranded RNA, the US CDC says, and it changes often, which is why doctors recommend that people get a new flu vaccine every year.
In the near future, we may need to get vaccinated every year against COVID-19 depending on the strain that is circulating, and this is why major pharmaceutical companies need to step up their vaccine development process to accommodate these changes if necessary.
The ones who are probably the biggest losers in this fast-developing COVID-19 story are the children and the seniors who often are not allowed to go out of their homes. Many small children do not know what it is like to be inside a classroom or to play outdoors with their friends. A lot of seniors do not see their children or grandchildren as often as they would like to because their families fear bringing the virus to their homes.
In the meantime, it is back to work-from-home arrangements, as well as virtual classrooms for many of us, online shopping for essentials, trying to improve on our physical and mental health while being cooped up inside our homes.
Governments, especially ours, have to improve delivery of their services via online channels. Private companies, especially those providing essential services, should make their customer service hotlines more responsive and easily accessible. Many times, I try calling these hotlines only to be put on hold for a long time because the customer service representatives are busy. You are lucky if someone finally answers after the long wait.
Digital remittance trends
With the COVID-19 virus expected to be a mainstay in our lives, WorldRemit country director Earl Melivo shares with us his market trend predictions for the year.
First, money remittances are expected to continue growing in 2022, perhaps at a slightly consistent rate when economies around the world stabilize. WorldRemit processed nearly $10 billion in transactions in 2020.
Second is the continued popularity of mobile wallets.
According to Melivo, 2020 saw a $2.4 trillion boom in contactless mobile payments and the industry is expected to maintain momentum.
Southeast Asia, he said, is the fastest-growing mobile wallet region – supercharged by e-commerce, internet, and smartphone penetration.
In 2020, $12.7 billion in cross-border remittances were processed digitally. Electronic payment, he noted, is a popular alternative to physical banking given the convenience of lower costs, greater convenience, and the ability to send money on the go through mobile applications.
According to recent studies, Philippine mobile payment users will triple to 75.5 million by 2025, he said.
Third is the need to continue prioritizing safety.
Melivo emphasised that to address safety concerns surrounding money transfers and sharing personal information online, money transfer companies have prioritized security measures above all else.
He explained that on the sending side, more companies are integrating additional features to verify customers through identity documents and their phone’s IP address, while on the receiving side, as in the case in the Philippines, which is one of the top five remittance recipients in 2021, more deposits will be made directly to bank accounts and e-wallets due to the increasing preference of people not to handle cash.
Melivo said that with the support of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, digital payments services would continue to improve. All WorldRemit transfers, he said, are encrypted through their automated machine learning system for fraud detection. Moreover, consumer education on the benefits and threats of the digital financial space is an ongoing endeavor by both the private and public sector to help protect customers, he said.
Fourth is the importance of speed. To deliver the demand for faster money transfers, companies continually invest in their technology systems to make data exchange with financial institutions, telcos and local partners, and remittance flow more seamless.
At WorldRemit, Melivo replained that 95 percent of transfers are ready within minutes. It uses API technology that enables it to facilitate remittances in almost real-time. Furthermore, increased communication and tracking features will be integrated for added peace of mind.
Fifth is the need to make the entire process simpler.
Melivo said that eventually, the steps to money transfers would be better optimized – from downloading the application, creating the user profile, and adding the beneficiary, until remittances become as easy as sending a text.
He said that while relatively new, it is evident digital remittance is here to stay as the method of choice for customers. They have proven that it is just as safe as bank transfers, but much faster, cheaper, and more convenient.
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