Full Lockdowns No Longer an Option
The Philippines and the rest of the world are now in a much better position to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. The strict lockdowns in the past contained the virus spread to a certain extent. But there is no longer a need to resort to them despite recent spikes. Localized lockdowns may be more effective without causing greater damage to the economy.
The World Health Organization has recognized that additional lockdowns are no longer necessary to address rising cases, especially in Europe. The head of WHO’s European branch, Hans Kluge, says with “the basic nationwide and additional targeted measures, we are in a much better position to stamp out these localized virus flare-ups.”
“We can manage the virus and keep the economy running and an education system in operation,” adds the WHO official.
The Philippines also has learned its lessons from the series of harsh lockdowns imposed in Metro Manila and the rest of the nation. The economy shrank 16.5 percent in the second quarter of 2020 and many lost their jobs because people’s mobility was severely restricted.
The pandemic, in addition, likely worsened the poverty problem in the Philippines and elsewhere. The World Bank has estimated that as many as 100 million people were driven back into extreme poverty from its earlier estimate of 70 million to 100 million.
President Duterte himself found the need to balance the country’s anti-Covid-19 health measures with the economy. He acknowledged the need to reopen further the economy as small and medium enterprises were “barely surviving.”
I fully agree with his decision last week to place Metro Manila and the provinces of Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Bulacan back to the looser general community quarantine status, where rail transit, jeepneys, taxicabs, select buses and other forms of mass transportation can partially operate again.
President Duterte and the local government units wisely opted for what we may call a strict GCQ, where granular or localized lockdowns are being imposed. LGUs are now increasing their contact tracing efforts and have become more aggressive in placing more people in isolation facilities as opposed to home quarantines. We must not lower our guard despite the GCQ status—Covid-19 remains a threat and will be here for a while until a vaccine is readily available.
We are still seeing a spike in Covid-19 cases mainly because of the wider testings being conducted across the capital region and the rest of the country. The Philippines, however, is not the only one with increasing cases of Covid-19. The virus is rebounding in France, Italy, Spain and Germany because of travel activities, summer holidays and parties.
Italy as of Friday last week posted 845 new cases, its highest daily record since May, while France recorded 4,700 fresh infections. Spain’s daily increases exceed those of France.
Latin America is faring worse. The death toll from the virus in the region topped 250,000. Latin America and the Caribbean as of last Friday registered nearly 6.5 million Covid-19 cases and 250,969 deaths. Brazil is the worst affected country in Latin America with 3.5 million cases and over 112,000 deaths. It is second only to the United States as the world’s worst-hit country. (The Philippines has 182,365 cases and 2,940 deaths as of Friday last week.)
I believe we can further reopen the economy even on a gradual basis. LGUs in the National Capital Region, for instance, can limit the curfew hours between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and further to 12 p.m. and 5 a.m. The ability of restaurants, fast- food chains and malls to hire back their employees is hampered by the current curfew hours.
The economy has already shown indications of bouncing back from the second-quarter slump. Balancing health and safety measures with the reopening of the economy will restore consumer and business confidence. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the nation can continue to protect lives in ways that do not prevent people from earning a living.
Increased public spending, especially on infrastructure, should remain the government’s priority. The economy, according to Mr. Dominguez, would have contracted further in the second quarter without increased public sector spending—especially on infrastructure, public health, and social protection. The gross domestic product, he says, would have shrunk by about 2.5 percentage points more than it did in the second quarter, or 11.5 percent compared with the actual 9 percent in the January-June period.
The slow but gradual reopening of the economy is an opportunity for the government the restore the millions of jobs lost at the height of the pandemic. There should be no turning back. The past rigid lockdowns that shut down businesses are a good eye-opener.