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Two-week hard lockdown pushed

People walk inside the Marikina Public Market, July 28. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Jenina P. Ibañez, Reporters

BUSINESS LEADERS are supporting a two-week lockdown to prevent the spread of the more contagious Delta coronavirus  variant, but requested for more time to prepare before restrictions are tightened.

This as a group of health researchers on Wednesday urged the government to reimpose stricter quarantine rules in the Philippine capital region and nearby provinces as early as Aug. 1 to prevent a possible Delta-fueled surge in infections.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in Metro Manila could go as high as 5,000 a day by the latter part of August if a “circuit-breaking” or an early hard lockdown would not be enforced in the capital region for two weeks starting Aug. 1, OCTA Research fellow Fredegusto P. David told a virtual press briefing. Metro Manila averages 1,000 new COVID-19 infections a day.

Mr. David said imposing a stringent lockdown would enable the country to “regain” effective control of the pandemic within a week or two.

“A late circuit breaker on Aug. 16 will result in high case loads above 2,500 per day for the remainder of the month and will likely require a longer lockdown period,” he said.

“Even if cases are not increasing significantly at this time, if we give it an opportunity to spread, it will spread.”

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Jose Ma. “Joey” Concepcion III said this is the “best time” to impose a lockdown, noting the sluggish customer demand during the rainy season.

The Delta variant has also dampened consumer activity as health safety fears keep people indoors, he said at a separate virtual event.

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) President Emeritus George T. Barcelon said businesses should be allowed to prepare for at least a week before the hard lockdown. The private sector is recommending that a lockdown begin by the second or third week of August.

“It’s important that a preparation period be allowed for business sectors. One of the issues is mobility. You can have the severe lockdown, but again we should be cognizant that the transport of essentials is important,” he said.

Henry Lim Bon Liong, president of the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry, Inc., said a two-week hard lockdown could help prevent further lockdowns caused by a Delta-related surge in the last quarter of the year.

All of us are in the boat together. We either sink or swim together so let us just swim together.”

ECONOMIC IMPACT
The stricter lockdown would further dent economic recovery in the third quarter, Mr. Barcelon said, but he hopes that the stricter measures and vaccinations to contain the Delta strain would help the economy recover toward the end of the year.

“This lockdown will have a negative impact in all aspects. Business will be down. The collection of the government will be lessened. There will be more spending by the government for health services,” he said.

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said in a Viber message to reporters the country must sometimes take steps backward to protect the gains achieved in combating the virus, a move that is now prompted by the new coronavirus variant.

“I cannot predict the future with any accuracy, but we can prepare ourselves for any eventuality by protecting our financial capacity to react appropriately to developments,” he said.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua, who has advocated for granular lockdowns, said a full analysis was needed before making a recommendation on the type of lockdown needed.

“Our response is to manage the risks by ensuring much faster vaccination rate, and limiting more stringent lockdown in local areas or sectors of highest risk, while allowing the rest of the people, especially those already vaccinated, to earn a living,” he told reporters on Viber. “Our experience last March-April, where we were able to do a better balance can guide our response.”

BUSINESS SECTORS
Electronics exporters during the stricter lockdown last year were hampered by mobility issues at checkpoints. Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines, Inc. (SEIPI) President Danilo C. Lachica said a strict lockdown would again be needed to curb the Delta variant.

“We just need to ensure the unimpeded movement of materials and employees for the electronics industry. We hope that we can further accelerate the deployment of vaccines at local government units,” he said in a mobile phone message.

The stricter lockdown could also affect the real estate sector. JLL Philippines Head of Research and Consultancy Janlo de los Reyes at a briefing said the hospitality sector would see a decline in occupancy levels, and noted potential uncertainties in the office market.

“It’s a negative impact on the (property) market with regard to the lockdown as you could see in the previous quarters wherein we had those community quarantines,” he said.

The American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham) said the group could not yet speculate on the effects of potential strict lockdown on investment prospects, but the chamber opposes a sweeping strict lockdown.

“AmCham hopes businesses and public transportation will not be locked down and that restrictions will be targeted on ‘hot spots,’” AmCham Senior Advisor John Forbes said in a text message.

ACT NOW
Meanwhile, OCTA member Ranjit S. Rye urged the National Government not to wait for coronavirus infections “to explode or for our hospitals to fill up before it decides.”

“We will save lives and save livelihoods. We have a window of opportunity to reverse this surge,” he said.

The National Capital Region (NCR) will have 2,000 new cases daily on average by Aug. 10 if the government maintains the status quo,” Mr. Rye said separately. Coronavirus infections may reach up to 3,000 daily by Aug. 17.

Meanwhile, OCTA fellow Nicanor R. Austriaco, Jr. said Metro Manila’s healthcare use rate may be up by 100% as early as Aug. 15 if the government does not tighten quarantine rules in the region.

The Filipino-American molecular biologist, who is also a priest, based his projections on the experiences of the country’s neighbors such as Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.

“Once a Delta surge begins, it accelerates in an explosive fashion,” he said at the same briefing.

The Department of Health (DoH) earlier said the capital region’s healthcare capacity might reach a moderate risk level once it experiences a new virus surge.

On Wednesday, Manuel C. Mapue II of the DoH-NCR said Metro Manila has recorded a total of 22 Delta variant cases. Of these, 16 are active cases, he told a televised news briefing. The country has recorded 119 Delta variant cases as of July 24.

The government must consider “the bigger cost to the economy of a spike in infections that could be avoided by doing an earlier or preemptive lockdown measure,” Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. Chief Economist Michael L. Ricafort told BusinessWorld in a Viber message. “Options to do preemptive restrictive measures would make the economy better off over the long run.”

Mr. Ricafort noted that other Southeast Asian countries “do lockdowns at an early stage” while cases remain relatively low “to nip the cases at the bud.”

“NCR is the major economic center/convergence point and transit to other parts of the country so it is important to protect its population from the coronavirus as a prudent measure to also indirectly protect the rest of the country,” the economist said

Metro mayors were set to hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss the coronavirus situation in the capital region and their response to the spread of the Delta variant.

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