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Groups warn of lost opportunities amid COVID-19

By Jenina P. Ibañez, Reporter

PHILIPPINE business groups on Thursday urged the government to further ease lockdowns to fast-track economic recovery amid a coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, several chambers and industry groups said the qurantines should be limited to areas with rising infections.

“Delaying any further could result in lost opportunities and see us again lagging behind our neighbors in our quest for economic recovery and sustainability,” they said.

Among those that signed the statement were the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc., Foundation for Economic Freedom, Inc., Management Association of the Philippines, Subdivision and Housing Developers Association, Inc. and University of the Philippines (UP) School of Economics Alumni Association.

They also urged lawmakers to prioritize legislation seeking to open up the economy to foreign investment.

The groups said the country should balance public health and the effects of poverty and hunger on the greater population.

The National Economic and Development Authority this week said the entire country should shift to a modified general community quarantine — the most relaxed level of quarantine — next month to address income cuts, job losses and hunger.

The business groups said looser lockdown measures should be standardized across local government units to reduce uncertainty.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte locked down the entire Luzon island in mid-March, suspending work, classes and public transportation to contain a coronavirus pandemic. The lockdown in many parts of the country have since been eased.

Metro Manila remains under a general community quarantine.

“It is now imperative for our lawmakers to step in to enable the country to maximize economic opportunities for the economy to recover from the effects of the pandemic,” the business groups said.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) in a separate statement said domestic consumption would boost economic output as the country relaxes lockdown restrictions.

Small businesses would particularly benefit from the passage of a recently enacted measure allowing banks to sell bad loans and assets through special purpose vehicles, they said.

“The assurance of a steady source of credit for businesses will only sustain their recovery if establishments and public transport are allowed to operate at higher capacity, if restrictions on the movement of people are lifted and consumer confidence is boosted,” PCCI President Benedicto V. Yujuico said in the statement.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, who has been urging the government to ease lockdowns in the capital, cited the need to bring back jobs.

About 1.6 million Filipinos have been unable to go back to their jobs since the pandemic hit, he told CNN Philippines.

Public health concerns about a potential surge in coronavirus cases remain.

The OCTA Research Group from UP said infections in Metro Manila could rise to 2,400 cases daily by the end of March if restrictions are eased.

“If we relax everything too quickly there is a serious threat still upon us,” research fellow Guido David told CNN, referring to more contagious coronavirus strains.

He said the best way to balance public health and lockdown easing is to quickly roll out vaccines.

The first batch of vaccines had been delayed due to document processing, deputy vaccine czar Vivencio “Vince” B. Dizon said.

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