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Luzon ECQ lifting likely

Chito Lozada

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A consensus has evolved on the possible extension of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) but only in Metro Manila after 14 April when the policy is lifted for the entire of Luzon island.

Proposals, some harsh, took shape on Friday for the way forward in the battle against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) during a meeting among members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), bankers and other business executives.

The chief implementer of the government’s national policy on the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Carlito Galvez Jr. disclosed on Saturday that should the ecq being implemented be extended, it may possibly only be for a maximum of 15 days.

In a statement, Galvez said that they are studying the situation thoroughly because it will be premature if they announce an extension, saying that they will involve scientists, doctors and specialists that are studying reference models in other countries.

Most cases in Metro

The Department of Health (DoH) had earlier reported that 75 percent of the cases of contamination from the COVID-19 is found in the metropolis of 12.8 million.

A Daily Tribune source privy to the meeting said it was recommended that the best option for the government after 14 April, when the ECQ over Luzon island ends, will be a two-week extension of the isolation policy in Metro Manila “to avoid a second wave of infections.”

Health officials gave a projection that the peak in the number of infected will be known sometime after 14 April when mass testing is scheduled to start.

They estimated 23,000 as the peak in the number of carriers of the virus mainly as a result of the wider scope of testing where 19 percent will need hospitalization, 5 percent will have to be confined at intensive care and two percent will die.

Government representatives said 300,000 testing kits are now available that would be enough to test 120,000 individuals.

The IATF, however, is having a hard time firming up a recommendation on the ECQ, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said.

The task force, however, could not decide on the fate of the community quarantine yet because there is still no “conclusive” data about the COVID-19 cases in the country, Nograles said in a virtual press briefing aired on state-run PTV-4.

Prudence needed

As the cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the country continue to rise with the appropriated testing kits by the DoH doing its job of detecting the infected, Galvez stressed that it would be prudent not to rush to normalcy just to be back on lockdown.

“There are other countries that implement two, three or more lockdowns because once they relax, there are new cases surging again,” Galvez said. “So we need to study this better and extend it may be for at least 15 days to sustain the positive effects of the lockdown,” he added.

He stressed that the ECQ placed over Luzon and other areas in the country has led to a slower increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.

“The lockdown is effective, since it slowed down the spread of the virus. With that, we are seeing the possibility of having a lockdown for 15 more days,” Galvez said. “The number of infected is rising and some areas in the country registered a big number of COVID-19 cases.”

“Metro Manila, especially in Quezon City and areas in Regions III and IV have high contamination,” he added.

Over 1,500 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Metro Manila.

Nograles said scientists, epidemiologists, doctors, and the academe are still analyzing the available data.

He said the IATF-EID needs to be “very careful” in making a decision on what would be its recommendation to President Rodrigo Duterte.

The country’s young median age or the so-called demographic sweet spot that economic managers say would maintain the strong course of growth is also considered an asset in the battle against the effects of the virus.

“We have on our side the young median age of 23.9 years and the fact that the Philippines is an archipelago that helped the slowdown of the spread of COVID unlike in the United States and Italy,” according to health officials.

Also in the meeting, it came out that the government would permit the budget deficit to balloon to about seven percent of the gross domestic product which is double the current shortfall of about 3.5 percent of GDP.

A bigger budget gap, for which the government will likely use domestic and foreign borrowings to cover, will allow more spendings and will pave the way for the launch of a stimulus package for business and the nation as a whole to speed up recovery.

Stimuli focused on MSME

The main goal of the stimulus plan would be to assist small firms to prevent massive layoffs.

Economic managers also proposed the floating of a “10-year negative yielding loans” for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) that will be a form of subsidy in which the government will assume 10 percent of a loan’s total amount.

“Banks will play a major part in rolling these out buy no concrete detail has been released yet. In (Albay Representative Joey) Salceda’s example, if a P100,000 loan is given out, the borrower will only need to pay P90,000,” according to minutes of the meeting.

The balance will be shouldered by the government, through an appropriation in future budgets, it added.

Among the biggest concern that came out in the meeting was the expected influx of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) that will pose a double whammy to the economy in terms of reduced remittances and added pressure in the jobs market.

The government estimate is that some 230,000 to 240,000 OFW will return to the country as foreign markets as the effect of the contagion intensifies.

Salceda, who attended the meeting, also estimates that locally, 1.1 million workers will be displaced.

Some industries are also expected to need bail out funds from the government such as hotels, airline firms and tourism-related industries.

 with Elmer Manuel

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