Business leaders are supporting the recommendation of OCTA Research Group for a hard two-week lockdown in NCR plus to contain the spread of the virulent Delta variant. But IATF said it had not yet issued a policy on this.
DESPITE a strong clamor by big business groups for a hard two-week lockdown amid a virulent spread of the Delta variant, the inter-agency task force in managing infectious diseases (IATF) said this is still being studied and it had not issued any new quarantine regulation.
While the City of Manila already posted on Facebook its lockdown policy for one week, IATF said it has not yet decided on the proposed lockdown.
In an evening VLOG, former IATF adviser Dr. Tony Leachon said there had been a steep rise in productivity of infections (at 15 percent) despite the non-reporting by five testing centers, and yet government is taking its time to decide on whether to lock down the epicenter (NCR plus) or not.
“Must we wait for more deaths because of this variant, even though official health statistics showed only less than 50 died—an incredible number-- on Wednesday even when the productivity rate of the virus is at 15 percent,” Leachon asked adding that IATF has a habit of deciding too late on travel bans and border controls.
Ghost month anyway
Business leaders on Tuesday voiced their support for two-week hard lockdown in the ghost month of August, and not later as proposed by the OCTA Research Group of the University of the Philippines.
The business leaders said it would be more crucial to effect a lockdown later in the third or fourth quarter of this year, especially for MSMEs (micro small and medium enterprises), which are looking at being able to recover at least part of their losses from all the disruptions of the lockdowns in 2020 and even up to now.
Business leaders back proposals to impose a hard lockdown in August, also dubbed "ghost month," as health experts and mathematicians cite the rising number of people contracting the Delta variant of Covid-19.
In a forum on Wednesday, July 28, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Exporters Confederation of the Philippines, and Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry said the government can implement a two-week strict lockdown in August to "decisively contain the spread of the more contagious Delta variant."
The proposal is also backed by Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion, who said August would be the best time to implement such a harsh measure. He stressed August is the time when businesses wind down due to bad weather and for Chinese businessmen, they call August as ghost month where transactions and travel are to be avoided.
Concepcion also said locking down the economy again during August may help protect earnings in the fourth quarter, when consumer spending is historically up.
"Consumers spend for Christmas during this time (fourth quarter), and I think election spending will come during that time. It will also spell the difference what will 2022 be," he said.
"If we have to do it, let's do it and let's prepare for it. We're saving the lives of the unvaccinated."
OCTA Research fellow Ranjit Rye said virus epicenter Metro Manila is "officially in a surge," noting the increase in the reproduction number (R) from 0.6 in June to 1.33 in July. R is the number of people that one Covid-19 case can infect.
Experts have said the goal is to keep R (reproduction rate) below 1 to contain Covid-19 transmission. An R above 1 means that the virus is spreading faster.
A similar type of lockdown was implemented in Singapore in April 2020 to contain the spread of COVID-19. It was a tight set of restrictions meant to "reverse the tide of the epidemic."
OCTA previously suggested a circuit-breaker lockdown in March, when cases in the country started to spike again. At the time, the group proposed placing the capital region under this type of lockdown.
Enhanced community quarantine is the strictest form of lockdown where only a fixed number of people per household are allowed to leave the home for essential tasks or for work in essential services.
The Philippines now has 119 known cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant. But there are concerns that the actual number may be far higher, as the Philippine Genome Center is only sequencing a small percentage of the positive cases.
The Delta variant, which was first detected in India, is ravaging Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia.
Not wide lockdowns
Leaders of business groups had a change of heart and said they are now supporting calls for a two-week hard lockdown due to the Covid-19 Delta variant.
Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion on Tuesday rejected wide lockdowns floated by President Rodrigo Duterte in his last State of the Nation Address, saying restrictions should just apply to the unvaccinated.
He said he was eventually convinced by OCTA Research fellows about the need for a lockdown soon to prevent the spread of the highly contagious variant.
OCTA earlier warned that Metro Manila and parts of the country are now seeing a Delta-fueled surge in Covid-19 cases, but this has been denied by the Department of Health.
“We are in total agreement that if we are going to do a lockdown, let’s not wait. Let’s nip it while we can,” Concepcion said during Wednesday’s virtual pan de sal Forum.
“If we do it much later on, you will require a longer lockdown,” he said.
“If we are to lock down, let’s lockdown now because the rains are not helping our business, the fear is not helping our business,” he said.
“As the fear mounts it erodes consumer confidence going out,” he added.
“It’s important that a preparation period be allowed for business sectors," said George Barcelon, president emeritus of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
"You can have a severe lockdown but then again, we should be cognizant that the transport of essentials is important,” he pointed out. “Hopefully, this time we’ll have enough time to make preparations.”
The groups also said it is easier to sacrifice company sales now rather than in the fourth quarter, which they look forward to as the biggest recovery period with more people expected to shop and dine during the holidays.
Henry Lim Bon Liong, president of FFCCCI, said additional cash aid from the government might be needed should the lockdowns extend longer.
Not all companies may have enough to provide salaries when stores are closed, he said.
“For a company who can still afford the salary for the people, then we would like to recommend giving them salary, or if not 50 percent," said Lim of the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry.
"But of course, this should not be compulsory because other companies are bleeding at the moment,” he argued.
Strengthen medical response
However, labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said the government should work on “strengthening medical response and healthcare systems” and provide additional social support to save more families from hunger and poverty if the lockdowns are implemented.
"Napakahirap po at nakakasawa na lockdown ang tanging solusyon na inilalatag gayong napakatagal nang sinasabi ng mga Pilipino na ang kailangan ay mass testing, contact tracing, mabilis at ligtas na vaccination, ayuda at paid pandemic leave sa lahat ng maaapektuhan sa lockdown,” KMU secretary general Jerome Adonis said in a statement.
The decision to return to stricter lockdowns will have to be discussed by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and approved by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Tags: #Covid19, #Deltavariant, #lockdown, #economy, #circuitbreaker