Firms feel pinch as curbs tightened

A policeman is seen at a checkpoint at the boundary of Calumpit, Bulacan and Apalit, Pampanga, March 22. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

Jenina P. Ibañez, Reporter

BUSINESSES are calling for a quicker rollout of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines as they feel the pinch from tighter restrictions in the capital region amid a fresh surge in infections.

The Health department on Monday reported 8,019 new COVID-19 cases, the biggest daily jump since the pandemic began (Read related story “Philippines sets up checkpoints as daily case count hits record”).

The government on Sunday announced that only essential travel would be allowed to and from Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces or the so-called “NCR Plus” bubble. Until April 4, some businesses will be temporarily banned from operating at full capacity or at all, while indoor dine-in at restaurants will not be allowed.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said on Monday the economy could no longer afford to have its major cities revert back to the strictest form of lockdown given its huge impact on jobs and the income of workers and businesses.

“We need to consider that strict quarantines previously imposed entailed huge income losses and hardships, especially among the poor. The IATF Resolution No. 104 allows key businesses and services to operate, instead of imposing a blanket and prolonged community quarantine which could cost some P2.1 billion in wages daily,” he said in a statement.

Businesses are anticipating losses in the next two weeks. The tourism sector was hoping to get a boost during Holy Week, which usually marks the start of the peak travel season.

“There will definitely be an impact as a majority of travelers for the Holy Week would have been from NCR (National Capital Region),” Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) President Jose C. Clemente III said in a mobile message.

He said the industry is hoping the “situation gets under control” so that businesses can resume plans to reopen.

“A lot of stakeholders, especially travel agents and tour operators, are still on work from home or alternate work schedules as there is still not much business to be had so in those terms, most of us have not yet thought of fully reopening.”

Smaller retail businesses will also be affected by the lockdown, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) President Benedicto V. Yujuico said.

“Even with minimum additional restrictions, people will be afraid to go to the malls so there will be less customer traffic and this will also affect restaurants even if outdoor sitting is allowed,” he said in an e-mail.

The government, he added, had taken into account the potential business revenue and employment disruption and had taken steps to minimize them, noting that the lockdown would help slow the surge in infections.

“The lockdown is helpful but the true solution lies in the arrival of vaccines and the faster rate of inoculation of the citizens,” he said.

Henry Lim Bon Liong, president of the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc., said the private sector is looking to help import more vaccines.

“If we have more vaccines nationwide this year, we are optimistic that we can fully revive consumer confidence, rebuild businesses, and restore our Philippine economic growth this 2021,” he said in a statement.

The Philippines has inoculated just more than 330,000 people.

Foreign businesses in the country are also encouraging the government to adopt international best practices in mitigating COVID-19 transmission.

“The Chamber underscores the urgency of smooth and speedy rollout of the immunization program. This is essential in stabilizing the current situation, and in ensuring that the majority of sectors are up and running again on all cylinders,” European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines President Nabil Francis said in a mobile message.

Exporters, on the other hand, are adopting a wait-and-see approach. The companies during the stricter lockdown last year saw disruptions as they encountered bottlenecks in moving goods across multiple checkpoints.

Philexport President Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis, Jr. in a phone interview said that there could be disruptions among suppliers moving goods, but is not yet certain that the same would happen amid new restrictions.

But Danilo C. Lachica, president of the Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines, Inc. (SEIPI), said disruptions will be minimal.

“(The) industry has learned to adjust and cope,” he said in a mobile message.

The Philippine economy contracted by a record 9.5% in 2020 due to the prolonged lockdown. — with inputs from Beatrice M. Laforga