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Economic Reopening Has Not Led to a Virus Spike

The Philippines may be one of the few populous countries in the world that have avoided a spike in Covid-19 cases. Health experts have feared an upsurge in virus infections after the holiday season. But succeeding data showed otherwise—there was no noticeable surge in Covid-19 infections.

 

Our management of the virus infections seems to be holding up. From being in the top 20 nations with virus infections a few months ago, the Philippines now ranks outside of the top 30 (in 32nd place as of January 22, 2021), with daily cases kept under 2,000 on average.

 

The Philippines’s Covid-19 data is in stark contrast to those in the US, UK, Brazil, India or even Indonesia, which is close to registering 1 million cases. We have kept our Covid-19 cases low despite a partial reopening of the economy, simply because Filipinos are responsible and are religiously heeding the health protocols advised by authorities.

 

The relatively low infection rate and the absence of a notable spike in super spreader events, such as reunions during the Christmas holidays and the Traslacion in Quiapo in early January should convince health authorities that it is safe to reopen the economy further.

 

To be fair, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases is slowly moving to reopen the economy. It approved last week the further lowering of age restrictions for those who can leave their homes to 10 years (from 15) in modified general community quarantine areas. The task force lowered the age requirement to give retailers and commercial establishments an opportunity to triple their sales or at least increase transactions to 60 percent of the pre-pandemic level.

 

I agree with the assessment of IATF Vice Chairman and Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez. Malls, fast -food outlets, convenience stores, and other retail establishments will benefit from the relaxed restrictions.

A survey conducted by the task force, and whose results Mr. Lopez relayed, showed that “retail activities can easily bounce back to double or triple sales if children, 10 years to 14 years old, are allowed to visit malls and other retail establishments with their parents.”

 

Allowing younger children to go out and enjoy the amenities of shopping malls will have a significant impact on the overall economy. More people will purchase the merchandise offered by stores and dine in fast-food outlets. These minors will increase consumption in the market. Being minors, these children must be accompanied by their parents while shopping or dining in their preferred outlets. I can just imagine the exponential growth in consumption, and the jobs they generate when minors start visiting the malls or eating in their favorite fast-food outlets.

 

The partial reopening of the economy, unfortunately, has not produced the desired results so far. Mr. Lopez and the task force confirmed the lower sales trend. The current quarantine restrictions are still preventing many of our people from traveling, or going out of their homes.

 

The mobility restrictions during the holiday season, according to him, dampened consumers’ appetite and contributed to the slowdown in retail activities that dropped to the lockdown level of 20 percent from 70 percent in the October-period.

 

Such a trend, of course, is disturbing. The slow sales in the retail sector could eventually translate into another rise in the unemployment numbers.

 

Perhaps, the task force should look into further increasing the mobility of the people, especially our workers, by way of expanding further the capacity of our rail system and the deployment of more buses, including those coming from the provinces. The Philippines has a declining Covid-19 infection rate for so many months now—a testament to the health discipline instilled in our workers and those who are out there providing services.

 

The absence of a Covid-19 spike during the recent holiday season is proof enough that we can reopen the economy without necessarily risking a surge. For one, the task force should strongly encourage local government units to also ease the age restrictions in GCQ areas. Lifting the restrictions one by one, cognizant of the current health protocols, is a step closer to restoring jobs and a vibrant economy.