Lockdown costs: P30b in lost pay, mass job layoffs

The two-week enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and its four nearby provinces, which ends on April 11, will result in about P30 billion in losses in household income and hundreds of thousands of job losses, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said Tuesday.

PREMIUM ON PORK. A meat vendor prepares his wares at a market in Mandaluyong City on Tuesday. With only a few days left before the price ceiling on pork is lifted, prices in public markets climbed to as high as P400 a kilogram on Monday, the Department of Agriculture (DA) reported. Manny Palmero

In a statement, the NEDA said the extended ECQ in NCR Plus — Metro Manila, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, and Bulacan — will “have a negative impact on the majority of people.”

In its estimation, the state economic planning agency said the two-week strict lockdown will result in some 252,000 more individuals without jobs and 102,000 more poor individuals.

“On top of these, the more stringent quarantine in NCR Plus translates to a daily household income loss of P2.1 billion or almost P30 billion for the two-week period,” it said.

“All in all, the two-week ECQ may shave off 0.8 percentage points from the country’s full year economic growth in 2021,” it added.

Last weekend, Malacañang announced the one-week extension of the ECQ in NCR Plus, which started on March 29 and was supposed to last until only April 4.

The Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) also said the ECQ extension would cost billions of losses to the economy.

NEDA, meanwhile, said there was a need for a more intensified implementation of the Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat, and Recover (PDITR) strategy for the enhanced community quarantine to be more effective in reducing COVID-19 cases.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said in a statement: “The latest data shows that we are at a critical juncture.

Our collective actions today will spell the difference between containment and further spread of the virus. ECQ alone does not reduce the spike in the COVID-19 cases.

“The solution is to further enhance our implementation of the PDITR strategy with clear targets to achieve. This will help reduce the spike in COVID-19 cases given the new variants,” he added.

Chua noted the PDITR strategy worked between August 2020 and February 2021 when the country was able to reduce cases to below 2,000 per day, which allowed for the gradual opening of the economy.

However, with the new variants, the implementation of the PDITR strategy must be intensified.

Last April 3, 12,576 new cases were recorded with a positivity rate of 21.1 percent. The standard positivity rate is less than 5 percent, according to the World Health Organization.

On the same day, the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases recommended the one-week extension of the ECQ in NCR Plus, making it a total of two weeks from March 29 to April 11.

“It is crucial for all of us to take advantage of this period to increase the effectiveness of the ECQ by further enhancing the implementation of the PDITR strategy,” Chua said. He added that on the part of the government, the following key interventions would be pursued: first, increase and improve the health systems capacity; second, improve the communication strategy; third, accelerate vaccine deployment for the vulnerable sectors; and lastly, ensure that all sectors are equipped with the skills to transition to the new normal.

Chua explained that with more stringent quarantine standards during the ECQ period, the country stands to benefit from lower number of cases and deaths from COVID-19.

“Between March 31 to May 15, 2021, an additional week of ECQ is estimated to help avert 215,320 cases, of which 6,460 are severe and critical. We can also prevent 4,026 COVID-19 deaths,” Chua said.

Moreover, he said in using this time to significantly upgrade the country’s health systems capacity, where testing and isolation are intensified, the benefits would be even greater at additional 323,262 COVID-19 cases that may be averted, of which 9,698 are severe and critical, while preventing 6,045 deaths from COVID-19.

Chua further said the unhampered transition to the digital economy and the new normal, both for government agencies and businesses, should be further promoted to limit physical interactions, as well as enable continued operations and delivery of goods and services.

Meanwhile, the government intends to focus on the reopening of low-risk sectors as it backtracks from an earlier plan to open sectors considered as non-essential and high-risk.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the government would be basing its decision as it anticipated decline of infection rate and the easing of healthcare capacities should it pushed to move on to modified ECQ by next week.

“We found it generally hard to further open up the economy in a prolonged ECQ looking at the current covid numbers and the dire situation now,” he said.

“However, we cannot just wantonly abandon the economy. At any point we see it safe enough to open bit by bit, slowly increasing the capacity of low-risk sectors and essential industries so we can also increase employment opportunities,” Lopez added.

He noted the ECQ period would be brief enough only to allow infection surge to decline then safely transition to MECQ “and while in ECQ just stay safe in your homes and let the government do its bit to stop the surge.”

From the peak of more than 12,000 cases, the government was relieved to report a declining surge scenario hoping to further lower the infection rate within the second week of lockdown with plans to ease restrictions level on business visibility and people mobility.

Based on discussions of the Inter-Agency Task Force and the business sector, the government is planning to expand the operating capacities of the low-risk sectors to 50 percent.

High-risk enterprises which as basically non-essential like cinema, driving schools, internet cafes, gyms, review centers, wellness centers and spas will continue to be strictly under temporary closure until further notice.

Lopez attributed the surge in COVID cases to the entry of new COVID-19 variants which are highly transmissible, exacerbated by the fact that many people have also relaxed their guard against the disease with reports of private gatherings among relatives and friends.

“So, post-ECQ, what do we need to do? If ever opening more sectors we have to carefully choose which of these sectors are low-risk and which are high-risk. We ate bound to reevaluate what should be considered as high-risk, accounting for the possible spread of the new variants,” he said.

In related developments, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said the government would focus its COVID-19 vaccination drive on high-risk areas such as the National Capital Region and neighboring provinces.

Speaking at a Palace news conference, Galvez, the government’s vaccine baron, said the experts had recommended such a strategy to curb the spread of the coronavirus and achieve herd immunity in the NCR, Regions 3 and 4A, Cebu, and Davao, as well as Regions 6 and 9.

“We will be able to cover the affected areas once we reach 5 million vaccinations in Metro Manila,” said Galvez.

Frontline personnel in essential sectors, uniformed personnel, and the indigent population will be vaccinated beginning in May, Galvez added.

More than 800,000 Filipinos have already received a COVID-19 vaccine since the mass immunization program kicked off on March 1, according to Galvez.

The government aims to conduct up to one million vaccinations per week in May and then two to three million each week in June and July.

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