Modified ECQ: A step in the right direction

Now is not the time to be complacent and lower our guards against the pandemic, but we should also take a close look at the plight of the ordinary workers and small businesses. They have persevered with the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) directive and heeded the call of the health authorities to stay home. Thus, they should be treated like other frontliners because they are critical to reopening the economy.
A man walks beside chairs arranged for social distancing measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus as shopping malls reopened in Manila, Philippines on Monday, May 18, 2020. Crowds and vehicular traffic returned to shopping malls in the Philippine capital after a two-month coronavirus lockdown was partially relaxed over the weekend, prompting police to warn of arrests and store closures.

Any form of easing the quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila and the rest of the Philippines will be good news for every Filipino, especially for our workers who are raring to reclaim their jobs and their modest earnings.

Now is not the time to be complacent and lower our guards against the pandemic, but we should also take a close look at the plight of the ordinary workers and small businesses. They have persevered with the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) directive and heeded the call of the health authorities to stay home. Thus, they should be treated like other frontliners because they are critical to reopening the economy.

The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, in my honest opinion, did the right thing when it placed Metro Manila and other areas under a modified ECQ. This will give the Philippines and the main metropolis a semblance of normalcy, with the New Normal as the guiding principle.

The modified ECQ allows essential industries, certain manufacturing and processing industries to resume operations at half capacity. I just hope the transition to the general community quarantine and modified GCQ phases can be done quicker to pave the way for the full operations of Philippine manufacturers and industries.

Perhaps, it may be wise if we also look at the attempts of other nations to reopen their economy and get everybody back on their feet, and learn some good or bad lessons from them.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, the worst-hit state in the United States, consented to a gradual return to normal life last week, but not yet in densely populated New York City, which may have to wait until June at the earliest. The state of New York has seen declining Covid-19 cases and deaths in the past two weeks.

Spain and Italy are joining other parts of Europe in partially reopening their economy, encouraged by lower daily fatalities. Spain’s daily deaths dropped to 123 last week, while Italy reported less than 1,000 patients in intensive care, the lowest since March 10 before the peak of the country’s outbreak.

France has seen a drop in daily fatalities and began dismantling a military field hospital it built when hospitals were being overwhelmed. News accounts said the French were able to go outdoors without seeking a permit for the first time in nearly eight weeks, while some shops reopened their doors. An Agence France-Presse report noted that the broad boulevards of the Champs-Elysees in Paris were once again back to life “with cars and shoppers waiting patiently to make purchases, but things were not as before.”

Closer to home, gridlock is back in Beijing’s ring roads as China eases its way back to a form of normalcy, while Hanoi in Vietnam has seen the return of mopeds in its busy streets as millions of people in Asia slowly emerge from lockdowns and self-isolation.

In Hong Kong, AFP reported that revelers were slowly returning to the streets of Lan Kwai Fong, a popular drinking area in the central business district that went quiet during a temporary ban on the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants.

Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, lifted a state of emergency across most of the nation, except for Tokyo and Osaka.

Here in the Philippines, some Metro Manila mayors have favored a cautious and gradual reopening of the economy. Mayors Imelda Aguilar of Las Piñas, Isko Moreno Domagoso of Manila, Joy Belmonte of Quezon City, Abby Binay of Makati, and Antolin Oreta III of Malabon preferred their cities to be placed under GCQ after May 15.

They stressed that Metro Manila should not be on a complete standstill, noting that “off-center” cities could and should play the role in jump-starting the economy. It is in the “off-center” cities where major critical enterprises and manufacturing facilities are operating, aside from providing access to major highways and provincial markets.

We must remember that about 70 percent of the gross domestic product comes from the National Capital Region, Calabarzon and Central Luzon. These “off-center” cities have successfully managed the spread of the pandemic.

Metro Manila mayors are aware that the feared second or third wave of virus infections can happen if strict health protocols like wearing of face masks and social distancing are not observed. But the national government precisely built more quarantine facilities and hospital beds in anticipation of a possible rise in Covid-19 cases and as more tests are conducted in the population. The construction of these facilities has allowed the government to buy time and prevented our hospitals and health-care facilities from being overwhelmed by a new spike in Covid-19 cases.

The Villar Group of Companies, which I head, completed the conversion of the Philippine International Convention Center Forum Halls into a temporary health facility to handle moderate cases of Covid-19. The Villar Group, along with the Department of Public Works and Highways and EEI Corp., completed the job three days ahead of schedule by working 24 hours a day.

The DPWH, in all, completed seven “mega community quarantine” facilities for Covid-19 patients in partnership with private companies.

Public Works Secretary Mark Villar said these health facilities, also called “We Heal as One Centers,” can accommodate 1,976 people and have been accepting patients. They also house returning overseas Filipino workers who are undergoing a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

The patient care facilities are found at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium in Manila; PICC Forum in Pasay City; Rizal Memorial Coliseum in Manila; World Trade Center in Pasay City; Asean Convention Center, Clark, Pampanga; National Government Administrative Center, New Clark City, Capas, Tarlac; and Philippine Sports Complex (Ultra), Pasig City.

We can avoid the worst-case scenario if we gradually reopen the economy as some European and Asian nations are now doing.

The Development Budget Coordination Committee has become realistic of its prognosis on the economy after two months of lockdown. It now sees the GDP contracting by 2.0 to 3.4 percent in 2020.

“Neda [National Economic and Development Authority] estimates suggest that the potential impact of the pandemic on the economy could reach P2 trillion or about 9.4 percent of GDP this year,” says the Cabinet interagency body.

We might as well move to reopen the economy before a greater damage is done from where it is hard to recover. We must generate jobs, and the Philippines just cannot afford a rising unemployment rate.

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Image credits: AP/Aaron Favila


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