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COVID-19 WATCH

ECQ extension saves lives, economy

TDT

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Keeping people off the streets, except for frontliners and other essential personnel, is an effective way to contain the coronavirus. (Manila PIO Facebook)

The government avoided a disaster twice over when it extended the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) over Luzon until 30 April.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda (2nd District) hailed President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision, saying “history and economics do not show that extension is a trade-off between lives and economic growth.”

“Even a modified lifting of ECQ is like choosing disaster twice in both health and in economics: It implies losing more lives. In economics, it means losing more in the long run. If you extend ECQ, you save more lives and actually recover faster in the future,” Salceda, chair of the Ways and Means committee, explained.

Salceda said proposals for a modified or selective lifting of the ECQ, if not its total termination, would have been disastrous.

“If anything, the more lives we lose and the more panic this virus creates if it gets worse, the less our chances are of any quick recovery. Our people and our confidence. These are the two greatest resources in any economy, and they are the only irreplaceable ones,” he said.

The Albay lawmaker cited a recent paper by American economists Correa, Luck, and Verner (2020) which points out that, “during the 1918 flu pandemic, American cities that had longer lockdown periods reduced mortality rate and increased employment rates in the medium-term.”

The study suggested that “NPIs (no-pharmaceutical interventions such as lockdowns) play a role in attenuating mortality, but without reducing economic activity, and that cities with longer NPIs grow faster in the medium term.”

“Historical evidence says that if you use time wisely to build capacity, improve your system of care, and avoid making mistakes, such as premature lockdown lifting, you reduce mortality rate and facilitate faster recovery,” Salceda said in a previous interview.

Salceda said he is speaking from experience because the zero-casualty doctrine in Albay enabled the Bicol province to go from a poverty rate of 28.7 percent when he took over in 2007 to 17.6 percent in 2015 just as he was about to leave as governor.

“That’s the lowest in Bicol, and a full 10 points below the regional average,” said Salceda, an economist and known disaster risk reduction expert. “Disasters which are common in Albay, are not a hindrance to growth. If anything, our paradigm reassured Albayanos that their government values them more than anything. And human capital is the most valuable resource in economics.”

As early as January, Salceda filed a bill seeking to create a health emergency framework that would have included the establishment of a Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the Philippines.

By 4 February, he had written Congress leaders to act on economic countermeasures to Covid, including the expansion of health facilities.

A week before the ECQ, Salceda called for a lockdown of Metro Manila, just as community transmission was discovered. He had also written President Duterte a five-page report on how subsidies could be released to the public before the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act was passed, and a 12-page report on mass testing and post-ECQ measures.

“More often than once a week, we submit some detailed reports to the government and the House leadership. Our reports are wild speculations. They are based on the best available statistical models, from research, and from my experience as a crisis manager, both in 2003 when we were in very bad fiscal shape, and when I was Governor of the most disaster-prone province in the country,” he shared.

Salceda said that based on his policy team’s monitoring, infections are still accelerating.

“I know that we will have to intensify strategies while in the extension period. That’s why we have submitted a 12-page plan to the President that highlights mass testing, increased isolation of confirmed and suspected cases, and boosting our health care capacity and protecting health care workers. ‘Hindi po ito basta lang’ (This is not idle thinking). We’ve studied it, and the studies have been submitted to our leaders,” he added.

The lawmaker also emphasized that to minimize the economic costs, the most important thing is to keep the lights on to maintain the pre-COVID structure of the economy with as little loss in jobs as possible. He said it is important to lend cheap credit to businesses, provide subsidies to people, keep logistics moving and retool manufacturing towards essential goods.

“We have to rationalize our supply chain and our system of checkpoints and controls. I recommended to the President a coordinator for production and logistics to handle this matter – something like a Minister of Production during wartime. Economic growth is always in the future. We have many economic tools to restore economic growth, but no economic tool has ever succeeded in bringing the dead back to life,” he added.

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