MANILA, Philippines—The state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) on Monday (April 5) said the extended lockdown in Metro Manila and four provinces would prevent over 215,000 new COVID-19 cases but render at least 350,000 Filipinos jobless or poorer as a result of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the most stringent form of community quarantine.
In a statement on Monday night, acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and Neda chief Karl Kendrick Chua urged a “more intensified implementation of the prevent, detect, isolate, treat, and recover (PDITR) strategy” as the lockdown in areas accounting for half of the economy would take its toll on livelihoods while the country struggled with new and faster-spreading COVID-19 variants.
“The latest data show that we are at a critical juncture,” said Chua.
“Our collective actions today will spell the difference between containment and further spread of the virus,” he said.
“ECQ alone does not reduce the spike in the COVID-19 cases. The solution is to further enhance our implementation of the PDITR strategy with clear targets to achieve,” Chua added.
“This will help reduce the spike in COVID-19 cases given the new variants,” Chua said, referring to the two-week ECQ in the so-called “National Capital Region (NCR) Plus,” which included the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal.
ECQ was imposed in NCR Plus starting on March 29 originally only during Holy Week, but had been prolonged until April 11 as daily cases soared to as many as tens of thousands daily.
“The PDITR strategy worked between August 2020 and February 2021 when the country was able to reduce cases to below 2,000 per day, which allowed for the gradual opening of the economy,” Chua said.
“However, with the new variants, the implementation of the PDITR strategy needs to be further intensified,” Chua said.
“It is crucial for all of us to take advantage of this period to increase the effectiveness of the ECQ by further enhancing the implementation of the PDITR strategy,” Chua added.
“Containing the virus starts from one’s self. washing hands frequently, wearing masks even at home, staying at home during ECQ and practicing social distancing when outside to buy essential goods, we can all help contain the virus,” Chua said.
The ECQ would help reduce coronavirus infections. Chua said the one-week extension was expected to avert 215,320 cases, including 6,460 which could be critical and severe, About 4,026 deaths would also be prevented by the ongoing return to tighter quarantine, he said.
“Moreover, in using this time to significantly upgrade the country’s health systems capacity, where testing and isolation are intensified, the benefits would be even greater at additional 323,262 COVID-19 cases that may be averted, of which 9,698 are severe and critical, while preventing 6,045 deaths from COVID-19,” he added.
On the flip side, Chua said Neda estimates showed the total of two-weeks ECQ in NCR Plus would leave about 252,000 Filipinos jobless while 102,000 could become poor.
“The more stringent quarantine in NCR Plus translates to a daily household income loss of P2.1 billion or almost P30 billion for the two-week period. All in all, the two-week ECQ may shave off 0.8 percentage point from the country’s full-year economic growth in 2021,” Chua said.
Economic managers targeted gross domestic product (GDP) growth of a conservative 6.5-7.5 percent in 2021 following 2020’s worst post-war recession when the economy contracted by a record 9.5 percent.
Several multilateral institutions, like World Bank and the Asean+3 Macroeconomic and Research Office (Amro), already slashed their 2021 growth forecasts for the Philippines and expected the country to be a laggard in the region in reverting to pre-pandemic GDP levels.
These institutions had urged the Philippines to ramp up COVID-19 containment, mass vaccination, as well as fiscal support to vulnerable sectors in order to keep the economy afloat.
In a working paper released last week, the Washington-based Center for Global Development (CGD) said that in the Philippines, “it is evident that imposing a lockdown brings along a heavy societal cost that is entangled with immediate and long-term health outcomes.”
“Discussions on imposing lockdown have often been weighed by the trade-offs between the public health (anchoring on COVID-19 cases and death) and economic dimension,” said CGD in a paper authored by Diana Beatriz Bayani and Soon Guan Tan of the National University of Singapore.
“However, this trade-off should not be viewed as a dichotomous one,” said the papr, entitled “Health Systems Impact of COVID-19 in the Philippines.”
“Community quarantine measures should not be seen as an intervention that imposes a set of restrictions inflexibly,” the paper said.
“There should be responsive surveillance systems in place to monitor the effects and provide timely feedback to policy makers,” it said.
“Clearly, flattening the epidemic curve goes hand in hand with social protection measures and other policies directly responding to the needs of the population,” the paper added.
Chua agreed that lockdowns were not a complete solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“ECQ alone does not reduce cases. It simply buys time,” Chua said.
“Thus, we need to further intensify testing, tracing, quarantine, isolation, treatment, and vaccination,” he said.
“Enforcing minimum health protocols and monitoring compliance, building more isolation facilities, accelerating vaccine deployment to the vulnerable sectors, and implementing the additional social amelioration program are all needed,” Chua said.
The Neda chief also urged an “unhampered transition to the digital economy and the new normal, both for government agencies and businesses.”
This, he said, would “limit physical interactions, as well as enable continued operations and delivery of goods and services.”
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