By Ellson Quismorio
House members found out on Wednesday the real score regarding the economic losses of the Philippines so far because of the dreaded 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19). And it wasn’t pretty.
In a joint hearing by the House committees on economic affairs and on tourism, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon said the country could lose P22.7 billion a month in foregone revenue due to the COVID-2019 scare.
“Applying [the] multiplier effect of tourism, we expect that per month, kasama na rin ‘yung domestic airline receipts (this includes the domestic airline receipts)…we think it’s in the order of about P22.7 billion per month,” Edillon told the joint panel upon the interpellation of Deputy Majority leader, Cavite 7th district Rep. Boying Remulla.
“Our estimate is that if this goes on for five months, so meaning all the way to the second quarter, then the impact on the GDP (gross domestic product) will be at minus .3 for the full year,” she noted.
The five-month time frame came from Department of Health (DOH) Assistant Secretary Dr. Kenneth Ronquillo, in his answer to Remulla’s query regarding his estimate of the duration of the COVID-2019 threat.
“Sir, this is a new virus, we cannot really say when it will end, but based on past experiences with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS-cov (Middle East respiratory syndrome-coronavirus), that took about an average of five to six months. But this time, we can’t really predict,” Ronquillo said.
According to Edillon, the local tourism sector contributes 12.7 percent to the GDP.
“Down the road, if this persists up to six months, then there could be some industries, especially tourism-related industries that may have to reduce [their] workers,” she said.
“We think that the strategy has to be multi-pronged. One is to address the scare, kasi hindi naman kailangan (because there’s no need for a scare). We only have three positive cases so far,” the NEDA official said, referring to number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country so far.
All three individuals were from Wuhan City in China, the source of the novel coronavirus that leads to an acute respiratory disease. There are no known cures or vaccines for it.
The Philippine government earlier imposed a temporary travel ban on visitors from China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan in efforts to stifle the spread of the virus.
5,200 flights to be cancelled
Attending the hearing as a resource person was Air-Carriers Association of the Philippines (ACAP) Executive Director and Vice Chairman Bobby Lim. He gave the congressmen an idea of the travel ban’s impact on the airline industry.
“There are going to be refunds for all of those tickets given the ban on these travel markets. In terms of loss, this would be about P3 billion [in refunds]. But we have not calculated the impact on forward tickets sales because there is a demand depression,” he said.
Lim added that up to 5,200 flights would be cancelled by the ACAP members–which include Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific–in the next two months alone.
Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat offered her perspective on the COVID-19 impact while underscoring the resilience of Philippine tourism.
“The Philippines has so far overcome major outbreaks over the past two decades,” Puyat said, referring to SARS-cov in 2003, the influenza A subtype H1N1 virus in 2009, and MERS-cov in 2012.
“The Philippines saw a decline of minus 1.35 percent and minus 3.89 percent for SARS and H1N1 respectively, parallel to the global statistics. Similarly, when the presence of MERS-cov did not seem to affect international tourist movement, the Philippines also saw a general growth in arrivals despite the threat,” she said.
Puyat noted that Philippine tourism has the ability to bounce back strong from an outbreak scare.
“During the SARS episode, tourist arrivals in the Philippines dropped by 1.3 percent from 1.93 million in 2002 to 1.9 million in 2003, according to the Philippine Statistical Bureau. But in 2004, tourist arrivals rebounded quickly by 20.1 percent totaling 2.3 million that year.”
Puyat said efforts are being undertaken to soften the impact of the losses.
“As mentioned by the DOH, there is no local transmission as of this time. We’d like to assure everyone that it’s safe to travel within the country. Systems and protocols are in place to safeguard the welfare of our travelers.”
“The growth in domestic tourism despite the H1N1 and MERS-cov outbreaks is an opportunity that the Department is looking into. We are confident that through close cooperation, we will hurdle this 2019-nCoV (novel coronavirus) as we have others,” she added.