In the last four months, the government has generally followed the decisions of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) and its decisions have leaned towards shutting down entire regions, towns, and cities to stop the spread of the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic.
People have been told to stay at home for their own safety. In the process, offices have had to be closed. Factories and other businesses have had to reduce or cease operations, along with all manner of transportation. The government has lost taxes that it would normally get from these shut-down business operations.
Last Wednesday, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry asked: Have all these restrictions accomplished the goal of stopping the virus in the country?
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said in a television interview: “The IATF has failed…. Look at where we are today – 70,764 Filipinos were affected as of yesterday, deaths running to 1,837. Five million of our people unemployed. Forty percent of our micro, small, and medium enterprises closed. And — the worst – 5.2 million Filipinos suffered hunger in the past three months.”
Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) President Benedicto Yujuico was not as brutal in his assessment but it was along the same line. He said that the almost five months of lockdowns have limited business operations and put many at risk of permanent closure.
“You cannot open a business and limit it to only 30 to 50 percent, because they will lose money and would rather close,” he pointed out. “You cannot tell a restaurant to open 50 percent because 50 percent is not enough to pay the rent, utilities, and employees. You cannot tell a manufacturing company to operate at below capacity and still provide accommodation and/or shuttle services for its workers. And you cannot open businesses, even in phases, without allowing public transportation.”
The series of lockdowns in various part of the country – from the strictest Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) to Modified ECQ, to General CQ, to Modified GCQ — were all aimed at stopping the spread of the virus, without or hardly any concern for the economic implications of the restrictions.
It may be time, as the PCCI has proposed, to make an overall assessment of the entire situation— including the health, economic, and human effects and repercussions. The Philippines could see how other countries are doing, countries like Vietnam and Thailand, which are beginning to reopen their economies with the virus seemingly under control.
We can perhaps find a working balance between the IATF’s current system of restrictions and PCCI’s appeal for the resumption of business operations.