‘Use public schools as shelter for ecozone workers’

The Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza) is asking the national government to transform public schools near industrial parks as temporary housing units for workers, saying it is difficult to shelter employees of locators while Luzon is under enhanced community quarantine.

In a letter to President Duterte on Friday, Peza Director General Charito B. Plaza recommended that public schools be retrofitted as quarantine area to help in the fight against coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). She said this could spell the difference in containing the virus at a time hospitals are reporting overcapacity and, therefore, are turning down patients.

If not, public schools can be utilized as temporary houses of economic zone workers, who are having a difficult time traveling to site due to the restriction on movement of people under the enhanced community quarantine placed on the whole of Luzon.

“For economic purposes, some of them may be utilized to temporarily house ecozone workers who are challenged by the IATF [Interagency Task Force] restriction on movement of ecozone personnel,” said Plaza. “The idle buildings and warehouses, whether public or private, may also serve as logistics facilities, particularly for food products to ensure food security.”

Plaza is also appealing to the President to instruct the IATF to assist manufacturers in providing housing and shuttle facilities to workers, as well to ensure the safe passage of cargoes carrying export goods and service buses ferrying personnel.

According to Plaza, economic zones can be compared to cities and municipalities, as they host sizable population, linkages and communities. The 406 industrial parks nationwide employ over 1.6 million direct workers and they are connected with service providers that have a manpower total of about 6.5 million.

As such, the Peza chief said it’s imperative for the President to strike a balance between combatting the spread of the virus and making sure the economy is well and healthy.

“The Covid-19 pandemic as a global crisis will certainly end sooner or later,” Plaza said. “But the inflicted toll on the affected countries with the resulting socioeconomic impacts will be felt for several years even after regaining normalcy.”

“Thus, it becomes imperative for the country under your able leadership to strike a balance between protecting public health and safety, and keeping the economy afloat and the critical institutions running to ensure our victory in this fight against the Covid-19 crisis,” she added.

To minimize the pandemic’s impact on the economy, the government permitted manufacturers and business-process outsourcing firms to operate even as a lockdown is imposed on Luzon. However, they were required to provide near site temporary housing units for their workers to steer them clear of scrutiny in checkpoints.

In an assessment made by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the country is expected to suffer $300.4 million worth of losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While the figure is significant, the Philippines will suffer the least damage among Southeast Nations.

As of Sunday morning, there are nearly 665,000 confirmed cases of the deadly virus across the world. The Philippines has 1,075 confirmed cases, of which 68 resulted in deaths while just 35 succeeded in recovery.

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