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NCR and Calabarzon Should Reopen Further

We should not have second thoughts on restarting the Philippine economy despite the spikes in Covid-19 cases. Limiting economic activities is no guarantee that the pandemic will slow down and go away. The virus is here to stay for a while until scientists discover a vaccine that will finally contain or eradicate it.

 

President Duterte himself is not against the reopening of the economy. What he wants is restarting the economy on a gradual basis, which I agree with. The government is already doing that, but it can accelerate the reopening by focusing first on Metro Manila and the Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon (Calabarzon) region to speed up the recovery process.

 

The gradual easing of quarantine restrictions from enhanced community quarantine to general community quarantine is the right step. We should take a further step and shift Metro Manila to a modified GCQ status, which is now being enjoyed by Batangas, Laguna, and Quezon. Cavite and Rizal provinces, along with the whole of Metro Manila, should also graduate to modified GCQ considering their proximity to each other and being the center of economic activities in Luzon and the entire Philippines.

 

But, first things first. Washing of hands, wearing of face masks, social distancing, contact tracing and disinfecting public and common facilities in these “liberated” provinces and regions should be the order of the day. This is the only effective way of battling and containing the virus spread.

 

Striking a balance between ensuring public health and restarting the economy can be done. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III hit the nail on the head during last week’s pre-State of the Nation Address forum of the Cabinet’s Economic Development and Infrastructure Clusters. While the people’s health and safety remained the government’s top priority, Dominguez observed that Filipinos cannot keep retreating from the virus at the cost of their livelihoods, especially in Metro Manila and the Calabarzon region that account for a combined 67 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

 

Palace spokesman Harry Roque echoed Mr. Dominguez’s statement. Mr. Roque conceded that the Philippines had to partially reopen the economy or people would have died from a lack of livelihood.

 

Mr. Dominguez, meanwhile, stressed the importance of reopening Metro Manila and the whole of Calabarzon, from where many employees working in the capital region live. “It is vital that these regions reopen. The reality is that this virus will not go away until a vaccine is found. In the meantime, we must get back to work while staying safe,” said Mr. Dominguez in the pre-SONA forum.

 

The government, he added, can never take the threat posed by Covid-19 lightly, as it must continue protecting lives in ways that do not prevent people from earning a living.

 

The public should stay vigilant about the virus while commuting on their way to their workplace and manning their jobs. The government, for its part, should see to it that more aggressive localized lockdowns in Metro Manila are implemented to contain the virus spread.

 

I am glad that Interior  Secretary Eduardo Año is taking a no-nonsense approach in dealing with selective lockdowns to effectively flatten the curve in the capital region.

 

Mr. Año, vice chairman of the National Task Force for Covid-19, proposed the measure in his meeting last week with Metro Manila mayors, officials of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, and some members of Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, as part of government’s response to limit the spread of disease while gradually reopening the economy.

 

I have favored selective lockdowns compared with the restrictive ECQ that limited mobility to a minimum and virtually put the economy at a standstill. Mr. Año’s tactic of placing one barangay or street on an immediate lockdown and subject its residents to testing even if there is only a single Covid-19 case is an ideal model. Contact tracing here will be handy once the infected individual is placed in isolation.

 

“What we want now is a faster implementation of localized lockdowns, whether it is a community, neighborhood, a street or a building or one household or one barangay,” he said. “So that we will be able to eventually reopen jobs and offices and our countrymen will be able to return to work, we need to act fast.”

 

I fully agree with Mr. Año. We can both contain Covid-19 and further reopen the economy at the same time with swift and practical solutions.