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‘On verge of collapse:’ Retailers plead for faster vaccine rollout

Shopping malls have yet to see a return to pre-pandemic foot traffic amid the Delta-driven surge in COVID-19 infections. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

By Jenina P. Ibañez, Reporter

RETAILERS are asking for expedited vaccine deliveries as the industry is running out of cash reserves after three major lockdowns since March 2020.

“The retail industry — stores, fastfood and restaurants — are on a verge of collapse,” Philippine Retailers Association Vice-Chairman Roberto S. Claudio said in an e-mail on Saturday. “Retailers have lost 85-90% of our pre-pandemic levels.”

Business and government officials have been proposing vaccine “bubbles” or sectors where people vaccinated against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) can move freely.

But Mr. Claudio said the lockdowns and minimal customer foot traffic have depleted cash reserves, noting that online sales have accounted for just 8-15% of total store revenue.

“The answer to this problem is not the gamut of selecting on who can enter our establishments (vaccinated or not, 10% or 30% capacity, seniors or children, etc.). We can come out with many suggestions, but this will not address the retailers’ main problem, which is lack of customers,” he said.

“For so long as the strict lockdowns persists and customers are not allowed to come out, there is no business for stores and restaurants.”

Mr. Claudio backed the imposition of granular or localized lockdowns for areas with higher COVID-19 infection rates.

He emphasized the need for the government to accelerate its vaccination rollout.

The Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracker showed that the Philippines has fully vaccinated just 12.37% of its population as of Aug. 30.

“Rush (the) delivery dates of vaccines ordered to be delivered as soon as possible, even if the government have to pay extra cost,” he said. “Allow private sector to acquire vaccines directly to vaccinate our employees.”

Private firms are currently allowed to buy COVID-19 vaccines only if they enter into tripartite agreements with the National Government and vaccine manufacturers, as manufacturers require indemnification from government.

PRA President Rosemarie B. Ong said that the industry group supports vaccine bubbles.

“We in PRA fully support the call to increase mobility, to keep our economy moving, to reopen the different business establishments as we of course continue to implement stricter health protocols in our health establishments,” she said at a virtual briefing on Monday.

“It’s not just separation, but basically also protecting those that are unvaccinated.”

Listed retailers had mixed results in the first half of the year, which saw a return to a strict lockdown in late March to mid-April.

SM Investments Corp. (SMIC) said SM Retail’s net income surged to P3.6 billion in the first six months, despite a 0.7% dip in revenues to P138.2 billion. This was attributed to better mix of products, less sales promotions, higher level of support from partner-suppliers, cost management and rent concessions, SMIC said in its latest quarterly report.

Robinsons Retail Holdings, Inc. reported attributable net income of P1.67 billion in the first half, up 1.65% from a year earlier, as gross revenues slipped 5% to P71.8 billion.

SSI Group, Inc. narrowed its net loss attributable to parent equity holder to P174 million in the first half from a loss of P476 million in the same period last year. This on the back of a 28% rise in net sales to P6.4 billion despite ongoing quarantine restrictions and reduced foot traffic in malls.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines has continued to rise with 22,366 new infections reported on Monday. This brought the active COVID-19 cases to 148,594.