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We Can Fully Reopen by Clustering Infected Areas

Metro Manila as one big region remains the “epicenter” of Covid-19 cases because of its dense population. A thorough examination of the cases, however, shows that only a small fraction of the National Capital Region is infected.

 

I do not see enough reasons why businesses can’t fully reopen in Metro Manila and in the industrial and commercial region of Calabarzon. Covid-19 cases in the capital region, Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon provinces) and elsewhere, especially in Cebu province, are not that widespread as newspaper headlines suggest.

 

As it is, only a few places posted infections that local government units can effectively control. I do not see the logic in shutting down or putting back the whole of Metro Manila, or one province, under more restrictive quarantine rules when only a few cases are concentrated in few barangays. We should not lump the cities and towns of Metro Manila or one region and declare them as hot spots of Covid-19.

 

We will not be able to fully re-open the economy and restore the jobs of workers if we generally classify Metro Manila or one city as a virus epicenter. I personally believe that we can reopen the economy and slow down the virus spread at the same time by focusing the lockdown on a few isolated areas.

 

In Quezon City, for instance, which is by far registering the highest Covid-19 cases among the urban centers, local authorities can segregate those few barangays that are lately reporting a spike in infections and put them on a lockdown. The rest of Quezon City can function more normally if those infected areas are clustered or segregated from the entire city. The same can be done in Cebu province where the hot spots are limited to a few barangays.

 

I believe monitoring specific areas is more effective than shutting down the entire district or city as the solution to the prevention of the pandemic. We should also start differentiating those areas with relatively high Covid-19 cases against those with low prevalence.

 

In this regard, the national government can perhaps challenge our mayors and governors to contain the spread of the virus. Fostering competition among the local officials in limiting the spread or flattening the virus curve will be a wise approach. Local officials, mayors and governors should be more aware of their achievements and targets in battling the disease. I believe no mayor or governor wants himself to be perceived by his constituents, or by President Duterte himself, as a laggard in the fight against Covid-19.

 

Both the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Federation of Philippine Industries, meanwhile, are backing the call of the Department of Finance to ease the quarantine measures in Metro Manila and other major urban centers to speed up the reopening of the economy after a long lockdown period.

 

I agree with the business groups. I support their call for the lifting of restrictions in Metro Manila, Calabarzon and other urban centers “with the precaution that those factories and barangays with Covid-19 cases be dealt with more strictly.”

 

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III earlier said that while the people’s health and safety remained the government’s top priority, Filipinos cannot be retreating forever from the virus at the cost of their livelihoods, especially in Metro Manila and Calabarzon, which account for 67 percent of the gross domestic product.

 

Nearly five months of lockdown, as the PCCI correctly noted, has restricted business operations and put more companies at a greater danger of permanent closures.

 

Business closures will not help the government’s cause in battling the disease. They will translate into lower tax collections and put the sustainability of public finances and the ability to fund public services, including health and education, at risk.

 

We should follow the footsteps of other countries in reopening the economy and keeping the virus in check at the same time. The rest of Europe and Asian nations like China, Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, and Taiwan have reopened their economies while implementing basic health protocols, like social distancing, frequent washing of hands, and wearing of face masks.

 

The Philippines should continue widespread testing and contact tracing to curtail virus transmission. We can stop the virus and fully reopen the economy at the same time. We don’t want the ranks of the unemployed to increase. We can’t win the fight against Covid-19 if we keep retreating from it and shutting down businesses.