WE have seen what severe lockdowns are doing to the Philippine economy. They have shut down thousands of small businesses, displaced hundreds of thousands of workers and dampened household consumption.
The enhanced community quarantine has swelled the ranks of the poor and is not, to me, the most efficient way to curb the spread of Covid-19 and its Delta variant. A ramped-up vaccination is the clear solution to the virus spread, but pending the arrival of more supplies, we should live with the virus and do our best to protect the population for the meantime.
I personally think that it is time again to calibrate our tactics in reducing the menace of the virus, while balancing them with the risks and benefits of reopening the economy.
The enhanced community quarantine per last week’s data has failed to contain the number of Covid-19 cases in the nation. The ECQ clearly failed to achieve its desired results, while wrecking havoc on the economy at the same time. Daily Covid-19 cases in the Philippines hit a record 17,231 on Friday and have not gone down below 10,000 since August 17, 2021.
Other Asian countries in this part of the world are not faring better, although the “fewer” cases we have here are not a consolation. Japan logged 25,155 daily cases on Friday while Malaysia reported a new record of 23,564. Thailand had 19,851 in daily cases on the same day, while Indonesia settled with 20,004.
But the number of cases in these other countries belies their readiness to reopen the economy. Japan has the confidence to further reopen its economy with a vaccination rate of 51.56 percent (first and second doses) of its total population. Thailand, per the latest data of ourworldindata.org, has inoculated 27.43 percent; Indonesia, 20.49 percent; and Malaysia 55.01 percent. The Philippines so far has vaccinated 17.07 percent of its population.
The interagency Development Budget Coordination Committee, a grouping of the country’s economic managers, immediately saw the negative effects of the ECQ on the economic output just over a week of its implementation. The collegial body reduced the 2021 gross domestic product growth forecast by two percentage points from the previous range of 6 percent to 7 percent, to 4 percent to 5 percent in the wake of the latest ECQ in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
The lower gross domestic product (GDP) growth means reduced employment opportunities for the rest of the year, when we should be creating jobs in the time of the pandemic. It also translates into lower state revenues because of fewer business transactions. The government, thus, has little resources to meet the funding needs of the poor (through “ayuda”) and may be forced to borrow money here and abroad.
The government, among other things, must see to it that indispensable social programs like the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, or 4Ps, are sustained. 4Ps provide conditional cash grants to the poorest of the poor in the nation, in order to improve the health, nutrition and the education of children aged 0-18.
We can, perhaps, contain the virus spread without undermining the Philippine economy. As I have written in this column in the past, I favor granular or selective lockdowns instead of an ECQ or widespread quarantines. I agree with the position of the DBCC and my peers in the business community. We must remember that we balanced Covid-19 risks with economic reopening that enabled the GDP to grow 11.8 percent in the second quarter.
The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry aptly puts it when it warned against the ECQ or any of its modified form. An extended lockdown is erasing the temporary economic gains the Philippines has achieved so far and could stop the momentum of business from moving forward.
We can manage the health risks by enforcing granular quarantines that will allow a greater number of people to earn a living. Localized lockdowns, or the confinement of a few people in some areas with a clustering of Covid-19 cases, will be more effective in tracking down and containing the infection.
I am glad Metro Manila mayors are now supportive of this tack. Our local executives in the capital region are now amenable to a less restrictive quarantine level. Local executives and the national government can reallocate police and military assets to Covid-19 hotspots in Metro Manila and nearby provinces so they can effectively implement localized lockdowns, testing and tracing.
But our authorities should do more in easing the quarantine rules. Last week’s modified ECQ that started on Saturday still banned dine-in and al fresco dining, beauty salons, barbershops and nail spas. The modified lockdown form will not create employment and keep those previously working in malls, fast-food, restaurants and small retail outlets still jobless.
The increasing number of Covid-19 cases in the Philippines is not the doing of many of our Filipino workers, who have religiously adhered to rigid health protocols. They should not be penalized for the misdeeds of a recalcitrant few.