As the government extended the quarantine period further until May 15, a new set of guidelines was released that allowed some businesses to resume, either in partial or full operations. In areas that are still under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the list of businesses allowed to operate was expanded on the condition that proper health precautions are strictly observed. In areas now classified as under general community quarantine (GCQ), most businesses will now be allowed to operate but were reminded to still follow the minimum set of health standards.
Getting back to business in the so-called “new normal” is a welcome development for the entire workforce and will also facilitate the uninterrupted flow of goods affected by the travel bans and lockdowns.
Though consumers are eagerly anticipating the reopening of commercial establishments, such as salons, malls, etc., we should be mindful that in the “new normal” scenario, the strict practice of regular sanitation, disinfection, personal hygiene, wearing of personal protective equipment, and appropriate physical distancing in all public places must be followed.
The immediate operation of businesses is critical in order to transition the local economy from its nearly two months of dormancy. However, both consumer and business confidence may take time to recoup, especially if there is still no assurance that the virus would not continue to take its toll even if all quarantine measures have been lifted.
A previous report from the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) stated that, “once the enhanced community quarantine is lifted, there may still be reduced economic activity as the public becomes hesitant to engage. The best way to address this problem is to assure the public of the adequacy of our improved health systems.”
Just over the weekend, the number of COVID-19 positive cases in the country surpassed the 9,000 mark. It is also unfortunate that the death toll breached 600. Over the past several weeks, the reported daily new cases has been maintained at around 200.
The Department of Health (DoH) has been cautious in declaring that it had “flattened the curve,” acknowledging that there are limitations in the available data and expansion of testing is still being conducted in different areas of the country. The agency stated that “it is too early to tell whether the Luzon-wide ECQ is effective, but initial imputation analysis seems to suggest that the quarantine is keeping new case numbers steady.”
As of May 3, there are 22 testing laboratories nationwide with daily output of over 5,000 tests per day. However, according to the DoH, these were still less than the testing capacity goal of 8,000 by the end of April.
In order to further expand and reach the goal of 30,000 tests by May 30, the Inter-Agency Task Force — National Task Force (IATF-NTF) and the DoH, with the support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) launched the public-private task force T3 (Test, Trace and Treat). This expansion in the testing is critical in managing COVID-19 and determining when the ECQ can be modified in selected locations and sectors. The Government has requested the private sector such as hospitals, clinics, and pharmaceutical groups to be initial members of Task Force T3, and hope that more business groups will throw their much needed support. Among those invited to participate are the Ayala Group’s AC Health, the Metro Pacific (MPIC) Hospital Group, Unilab, the Philippine National Red Cross, and Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation.
Several business groups also want testing for their workers and are willing to invest in necessary safety measures. This facilitates the gradual resumption of operations while safeguarding against new outbreaks.
Private companies are doing their part and cooperating with the government. Some of the country’s top employers have committed to continue the payrolls and even advanced some benefits for their workforce, even when revenues have been greatly disrupted since the quarantine period.
In a previous statement, President Rodrigo Duterte appealed to the private sector for assistance and acknowledged its vital role in augmenting the resources and manpower of the government.
In response, the biggest business groups have been swift, aggressive, and efficient, as these are qualities integral to the developmental culture of successful enterprises. All the government has to do is to remove the barriers for unleashing the potential of all levels of the private sector. Divisive expletives may be entertaining to some but have a damaging effect to our national image as an investment preference.
When the virus has been defeated, the prospect of a quick rebound will depend on the confidence of big investors to choose the Philippines over other economies who will also want to recover from the global economic fallout of the Wuhan virus. The country must be ready to compete for the huge capital needed to reboot the economy.
Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the President of Stratbase ADR Institute.