COVID-19 tames Competition

Amelia H. C. Ylagan-125


I have not worn lipstick for nine months now. I cannot. Lipstick will only smudge under a face mask. Lots of clothes, shoes, bags, and jewelry, fake and real, have been lying around unused. No occasion to show these off. What did I need all those for — before this protracted quarantine against the persistent COVID-19 pandemic?

“Packaging” would be the answer, in a classroom MBA case study of the ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic on comparative socio-economic and political competition arenas. In economics, “Competition” is the effort by which limited goods and services are differentiated to achieve the optimum marketing mix of Price, Product, Promotion and Place (the “Four P’s”). “Packaging,” (which falls under “Product” and “Promotion”) would be a big contributor to that subliminal perception and actual final acceptance of the product.

So, when can I wear lipstick again? Perhaps when an approved vaccine is available in the country, and I am convinced enough to have myself vaccinated. But I will still have to wear a face mask even after vaccination, because I can still be a “spreader” of the virus to others who might still be vulnerable, or I could even be re-infected, on the X-percentage of the vaccine’s declared failure possibility. Ay naku! Will I ever wear lipstick again?

COVID-19 has reined in Competition in many ways. Perhaps the vaccine issue is the most revealing of how competition has changed among countries and their epidemiologists now fighting for market share for this, whilst carefully packaging themselves as altruistically responsive to the urgent human need for protection against the terrible coronavirus. But then again, we must not cast aspersions on social consciousness versus economic opportunity.

It is just that the end game of a competitive race is the winning of the trust of the “buyer.” On Teleradyo last week, anchor Tony Velasquez collated texted responses to the question, “Will you or will you not have yourself vaccinated when the vaccine is available, and why?” The answers were predominantly “No” and “Not now,” close to the surveys floated around that only 25% of Filipinos will readily opt for vaccination (as reported by CNN Philippines on Jan. 5). One response read out by Velasquez stood out with its very telling one-liner: No to “SinoVac” (a Chinese vaccine). Others simply declared their lack of trust in a “Made in China” vaccine.


News broke out at year-end that there was “clandestine inoculation (later established to be sometime September 2020) of President Rodrigo Duterte’s close-in security detail (PSG) with a vaccine for COVID-19 not yet authorized by local regulators” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Jan. 2, 2021). “Government officials eventually admitted the vaccine for COVID-19 was developed by the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm… (whose) vaccine has not yet been approved by the FDA for use in the country,” the Inquirer reported.

The New York Times (NYT) (Dec. 30, 2020) reported the approval of the state-owned Sinopharm’s vaccine after Phase 3 trials but still without official results, with 30 million Chinese to be vaccinated by mid-February, when hundreds of millions are expected to travel for the Lunar New Year holiday. (Does that mean the Filipino PSG, who were vaccinated in September 2020, were inoculated with the Sinopharm vaccine much ahead of the Chinese people, even before approval in December by the Chinese government for its own vaccine? For clarification.)

The NYT said that “at 79% efficacy, the Sinopharm vaccine’s results show that it is less effective than others that have been approved in other countries. Two other coronavirus vaccines, made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, have been shown to have an efficacy rate of about 95%. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has received authorization in more than 40 countries. Moderna’s vaccine has been authorized in the United States, and other countries are evaluating its trial results. Russia has announced that its Sputnik V vaccine has an efficacy rate of 91% and has begun a mass vaccination campaign.”

There goes Trust, and the mangling of otherwise-legitimate competition in what should be a level playing field in a free market, considering that the vaccine is a demand-skewed product — an urgent need — in the perilous imbalance caused by the fearsome pandemic. Pity the anxious people!

Soon after the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 as a pandemic on March 11, 2020, the intergovernmental United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) worried about the coronavirus crisis wreaking havoc on markets the world over. “The pandemic’s sweeping economic impact has left governments balancing between defending competition, so prices do not become prohibitive, and granting exemptions to competition rules to ensure the survival of entire economic sectors,” the UN News said on April 8, 2020. UNCTAD exhorted collaboration instead of competition of markets, pointing at the marketing and selling of basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, and health needs for medicine, treatment and hospitalization/confinement. The development of a vaccine against the fiercely virulent and highly contagious COVID-19 has been the international showcase for the prescribed “collaborative competition” in the “New Now” forced by the pandemic.

One good thing going for the New Now is that enhanced information technology has made more people know facts and figures close to real time and have access to organized archives of background data relevant to the present and possibly indicative of the future. But are we close to the utopian perfect information and perfect equilibrium in the abstraction of economics? No, fake news won’t let it happen.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) warned that “in a time of high fears, uncertainties and unknowns, there is fertile ground for fabrications to flourish and grow. The big risk is that any single falsehood that gains traction can negate the significance of a body of true facts.” Some have capitalized on the pandemic, to spread disinformation for the purposes of advancing their own agendas, the UNESCO said. “The motives for spreading disinformation are many, and include political aims, self-promotion, and attracting attention as part of a business model. Those who do so, play on emotions, fears, prejudices and ignorance, and claim to bring meaning and certainty to a reality that is complex, challenging and fast-changing.” So, who and what can we trust?

Belief and trust of the public are the end goals of market competition. But in the restraints and constraints of the pandemic many of the rules of the game are changed, with the classic “willing buyer and willing seller” weighing heavily on the buyer who has little choice but to trust and believe because of need. And so we see old businesses floundering and new businesses, often small and entrepreneurial, rising. Products sell, without the strategized “four P’s” of marketing — Price (buyers will pay for what they need); Product (alternatives to what cannot be sourced will do); Promotions (no expensive advertising needed, word of mouth and social media is free); and Place (online delivery is even at the buyer’s cost).

For me, I can do without wearing lipstick, really. Forget about “packaging” myself for the competitive market out there to be beautiful and “forever 21.” Until and maybe even after a WHO-approved and FDA-tested vaccine is available in the country, and I would have decided to be vaccinated, I will wear my mask.

What you (don’t) see is what you get.

Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.


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