The government will not impose a stricter and blanket community quarantine despite sharp rise in coronavirus infections, as the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said hard lockdown is very detrimental to the economy.
Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said on Monday, March 22, that strict quarantines previously imposed is no longer an option today, noting such reimposition would just result in some P2.1 billion lost daily wages.
“We recognize the risks associated with the recent spike in COVID-19 cases but reverting back to a stricter and blanket community quarantine is no longer an option knowing how much it has cost the Filipino people in the past year,” Chua said in a statement.
To preserve jobs and livelihoods, Chua said a careful and calibrated approach is needed to address the sources of highest risks through localized quarantines and additional restrictions.
The NEDA supported the localized quarantine measures in areas showing high transmission rates as directed by Resolution No. 104 of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
“The issue is not simply economy versus health. It is about addressing the total health of our people, whether from COVID, non-COVID sickness, or hunger. Rest assured that the government’s goal, first and foremost, is to save lives,” Chua said.
The NEDA chief explained that the relaxation of quarantine restrictions from April to October 2020 helped restore six million jobs.
During that seven-month period, Chua noted that stricter compliance with health standards allowed for a safe reopening of the economy without causing a spike in cases in the last quarter of 2020, allowing more Filipinos to earn income and feed their families.
However, the recent surge in the number of cases compels the government to act swiftly to slow down the infection rate, Chua said.
In order to save lives from COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 threats, the IATF recommended to add restrictions in specific areas without constraining the overall mobility of people.
“Over the next two weeks, we will strengthen the implementation of the ‘Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat, and Recover’ or PDITR strategy and continue rolling out the vaccination program,” Chua saud.
The government already started inoculating the medical front liners last March 1 and it aims to provide vaccines to at least 70 million Filipinos this year, or around 100 percent of the entire adult population.
“We will do all of this while ensuring that majority of the people can still safely work, earn a living, and access basic services while adhering to minimum health and safety standards,” Chua added.
The country has been in varying levels of quarantine over the past year. As a result, an estimated 16.4 million people have experienced hunger nationwide.
In Metro Manila alone, 3.2 million individuals or one in four people are hungry. There are also 506,000 jobless people .
“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,” he said.
Chua also mentioned that the focus on COVID-19 has also shifted attention away from other critical sicknesses and diseases.
According to the results of a preliminary study from the Center for Global Development, PhilHealth claims for high burden diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and hypertension have dropped by 75 percent during the pandemic.
This means that majority of the people are deferring health treatment due to lack of resources for healthcare, mobility restrictions, or the fear of getting infected in hospitals.
“We assure the public that the IATF is committed to aggressively pursuing solutions to manage risks and swiftly control the increase in COVID-19 cases, without restraining the economy at the expense of the most vulnerable in our population,” Chua said.