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Pushing for economic growth amid pandemic

If the Covid-19 Delta variant is more widespread than suspected, then we have not seen the last of the ECQ.

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As of this writing, the Metro Manila mayors has deferred to the Inter-Agency Task Force (iatf) the decision whether to extend or change the current enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) status in NCR and several other areas.

The country is still battling the surge in Covid cases due to the highly transmissible Delta variant with cases per day increasing and a positivity rate hitting more than 20 percent since 8 August 2021. We are nearing 1.8 million in total number of cases. OCTA Research, tracking the infection trend, says cases are expected to remain high.

Health Undersecretary Ma. Rosario Vergeire is also saying that the impact of the ECQ in bringing down cases would take two to three weeks to be manifested, explaining that the main reason behind it is for the government to be given more time to prepare for the impending spread of the Delta variant.

In the last three weeks, the Delta variant grew from an estimated 10 percent of reported cases to 30 percent and last week to 47 percent. The Delta variant has dominated the number of cases in all regions except Caraga. Also, we now have what the Department of Health believes is a local case of the equally transmissible Lambda variant, which was first detected in Peru.

While the implementation of lockdown has proven helpful in controlling the spread of the virus, it shouldn’t be the foremost solution as it also proves to be harmful to the economy.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua said the country is losing at least P150 billion per week of lockdown. That estimate should now be revised, considering several other areas have been added to the ECQ list. The negative impact is too much for a developing country like the Philippines.

Former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos is urging the government to ease restrictions among fully vaccinated individuals to allow economic operations despite surge in cases. It goes without saying that minimum safety and health protocols should still be strictly followed. This is one of the most sensible suggestion given the crippling effects of lockdowns not only to the economy but to the individual as well.

I fear a prolonged lockdown might further cripple an already reeling economy. This sentiment is shared by several business groups like members of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, who urged the government to minimize the negative impact of Covid-19 to our economy.

With many small businesses closing shops, more people are losing their jobs.

The impact of losing a job at a critical time like this is worse than losing a job during the pre-pandemic period. When breadwinners lose their jobs, their family loses access to basic needs like proper health care and nutrition, making them more vulnerable to the virus.

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (PCCI)also expressed their concerns regarding implementation of strict lockdowns.

PCCI acting president Edgardo Lacson said the lockdown poses the threat of losing whatever economic gains we had over the months in-between lockdowns. It also stalls the growth of businesses. When growth of businesses is stalled, it drives away potential investors in the country.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) also shares these sentiments, stressing the effects of lockdowns to micro, small and medium enterprises.

DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez also called on his fellow members of the IATF to resist suggestions to extend the ECQ. NCR needs to get back to modified ECQ as soon as possible, Lopez maintained, in order to seize the momentum in the latest GDP (gross domestic product) recovery back to growth track.

The government must revisit its strategies in facing this pandemic, continue what works, and improve on what doesn’t. As recommended by the business groups and the DTI, the long-term solution is to ramp up inoculation in the country, which is currently at roughly 18 percent of the target to achieve herd immunity.

By the end of this month, we expect to fully vaccinate over one in five of the target population. By September, we should have enough vaccines to consider including 12- to 17-year-old Filipinos in the inoculation programs.

If more people are protected against the virus, it will be easier for different sectors to resume operations, paving the way for economic recovery, stability and eventually growth, amid the pandemic.

If the Covid-19 Delta variant is more widespread than suspected, then we have not seen the last of the ECQ. We either do it right, because by insisting on doing it wrong, we are simply making matters worse and more painful for those who suffer loss of jobs, money or lives.

As Albert Einstein said, “Repeating a mistake over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.”

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