Business group seeks further lockdown easing in ‘main economic centers’

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Local governments have been implementing lockdowns in certain areas with a spike in coronavirus cases. — PHILIPPINE STAR /MICHAEL VARCAS

THE Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) should further ease quarantine restrictions “in all main economic centers” in the country to drive recovery, the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI) said.

“The Federation is supporting the call of Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III that the country’s main economic centers like Metro Manila, Calabarzon and other urban areas should move to looser quarantine restrictions as soon as possible to reopen the economy, with the precaution that those factories and barangays with COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) cases be dealt with more strictly,” FPI said, quoting Chairman Jesus Lim Arranza’s letter to the IATF.

Mr. Dominguez has been pushing for further relaxation of quarantine protocols in Metro Manila and other key cities, saying the government has to maintain a “reasonable balance between safeguarding public health and restarting the economy.”

The Health department has been reporting a steady rise in coronavirus infections in recent days, prompting calls for a return to stricter quarantine conditions in Metro Manila and key areas. On Thursday, 2,200 new coronavirus infections were reported, bringing the total to 74,390.

Socioeconomic Planning Acting Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said “the challenge for Philippines now is to do a rebalancing, from just saving lives from COVID-19, which is basically saving lives from other diseases, (to) also (saving lives from) other sources of threat, for instance, hunger.”

Mr. Chua said the lockdown period from March to May gave the country’s healthcare system enough time to boost its capacity.

As the economy slowly begins to reopen, he said the government should prioritize the reopening of mass transport systems.

“We have noticed that when the economy is allowed to open up to 75%, the public transport system has not gone up as much. So the next priority really is for us to ensure that we can open up as many of the public transport systems while ensuring the minimum health standards are maintained. So this is the priority going forward,” Mr. Chua told CNBC Asia’s Capital Connection on Thursday.

FPI also urged the IATF to start allowing more jeepneys to operate and require both drivers and passengers to wear masks and follow safety protocols.

“This is very critical because the ordinary workers could not report for work since this (mode of) transportation is not available particularly in the economic centers,” it said.

Metro Manila and the provinces of Laguna, Cavite and Rizal still remain under general community quarantine (GCQ) while Batangas and Quezon are under modified GCQ until July 31.

The FPI likewise urged the government to ease restrictions in some rural areas to revive the agriculture and forestry sectors, which could help address supply chains issues.

It also called for a stricter implementation of the Commonwealth Act 138 and Administrative Order (AO) No. 227 to promote use of Filipino labor, domestic materials and locally produced goods both for consumers and in the government’s procurement of supplies under the recovery plan.

“The local manufacturers have regularly paid their taxes and duties to the government; thus, it is about right to give them also the necessary reciprocity by patronizing and procuring their products and materials with the money that they contributed in the first place to the State. Verily, this is now the time not only for our citizens, but for the government as well to be patriotic — by patronizing locally made products and boost our economy,” it said. — Beatrice M. Laforga





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