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Lawmakers looks into extending lockdown; Nomura warns of unrest without more aid

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Rickshaws block a street from outsiders to protect a neighborhood from the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Manila, March 24. -- REUTERS

THE possible extension of the Luzon lockdown looms with lawmakers looking into recommending it as the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the Philippines continue to rise, and the pandemic seems to not have reached its peak yet.

This as Nomura Global Research warns that incidents of unrest may increase unless there is a supplementary budget for aid allocation and to support the economy.

“Because of still-rising confirmed cases in the Philippines, the key risk, in our view, is an extension of the lockdown, as we have seen in Malaysia, and incidents of social unrest may increase,” Nomura said in a note sent to reporters on Friday.

“We therefore continue to believe that, similar to what other countries have already done in the region, a sizeable supplementary budget (apart from reallocations of the existing budget) will have to be passed that is designed to provide more aid to the poor as well as measures to support the broader economy,” it said.

It pointed out that as of April 1, the death toll in the Philippines is one of the highest in the region

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The enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon is set to end on April 12, if it is not extended.

Senate President Vicente T. Sotto III told reporters in a Viber message that they would “Have to study it well. Balance safety and economy. I agree with the thinking, ‘Life first Economy later’.” Senator Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva, in the meanwhile, said that there is not enough evidence that the pandemic’s spread is over in the Philippines.

“The increasing incidence of COViD positive individuals tells us that the pandemic is not yet over. I am in favor of extending the quarantine. At the same time, we have to consult our supply chain experts as we need to probably exempt some sectors in this lockdown, especially the food, manufacturing and delivery sector. This is to ensure that we have sufficient supplies of food and basic necessities while we continue our quarantine. Tapping the experts for me is very important,{ he said in a Viber message.

In the lower house, Albay Representative Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda is already calling for the extension of the quarantine in Luzon by another two weeks.

He said in a statement that “the most reputable sources in the medical community have never suggested ‘to shorten the lockdown,’ but have done quite the opposite, proposing at least six-week lockdowns to avoid prematurely lifting restrictions and triggering a massive wave of new infections.”

He cited several critical factors that should be monitored to tell whether the lockdown has been effective: “mobility, isolation and tendency.”

“The ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) has significantly reduced mobility. So, people are no longer moving around carrying the virus as much as they would have,” Mr. Salceda said in a statement. “The second critical factor is what we call isolation tendency. It’s how much you isolate confirmed and suspected cases from the rest of the population.”

Mr. Salceda said that an assessment on whether the outbreak was controlled will be dependent on the mass testing of at least 200,000 people. But, “based on our capacity and possible increments, we cannot do that before April 14, thus we cannot lift the ECQ and we will need the next 14 days to have a better grasp of the situation,” Mr. Salceda said.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte has said that the government will allot P200 billion for low income households hit by the crisis.

The Department of Social Welfare and the Department of Finance are in charge of putting together a database of low-income households that will receive aid from the Emergency Subsidy Program as part of the government’s response measures.

Under the scheme, low-income households are expected to receive between P5,000 to P8,000 in cash assistance, per month, for two months.

Health officials reported that there are 2,633 COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, with the number of deaths rising to 107.

Secretary Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. of the National Task Force on COVID-19 has said that the government is looking to kickstart the mass testing of patients under investigation and persons under monitoring by April 14. — Luz Wendy T. Noble

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