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We Can Lessen the Damage to the Economy

We should reopen the economy further to restore the millions of jobs lost to Covid-19. Doing so can prevent further damage to the economy and lift the spirits of our workers.

 

The country’s economic performance in the third quarter of 2020 may be a foregone conclusion. The gross domestic product may have contracted again in the July-September period, extending the recession that started in the first quarter of the year. Mobility and current quarantine restrictions have prevented our workers from going to their workplace. Our malls are virtually empty, except for a handful of shoppers and diners, mainly because of public transportation limitations and the shuttered services sector, a labor-intensive industry.

 

I don’t want to sound pessimistic but a key domestic trade data released last week tells us the real picture of the economic damage wreaked by the pandemic. The number of franchised stores has fallen 35 percent, or 70,000, to 130,000 so far this year from 200,000 in 2019 after Covid-19 forced many enterprises to close shop. The Philippine Franchise Association sees the decline being carried over to 2021, with an additional 20,000 franchisees stopping their operations. The data suggests that hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost in the franchising sector alone, assuming each store employs a minimum of three people.

 

Our small entrepreneurs, including owners of restaurants, retailers and those in the franchising sector, in their own little way have significantly contributed to our GDP growth and employed hundreds of thousands of people. We should find a way to revive their operations and we can only do that by reopening the economy further and bringing back their customers.

 

I fully agree with the proposal of the Department of Trade and Industry for the faster opening of business establishments in the Category 3, or services sector, that are currently operating at only 50 percent of their normal capacity. Fully reopening these businesses will get back more workers and support our economic recovery.

 

With Covid-19 infections plateauing to under 3,000 cases last week, the government can now revisit the work-at-home arrangement it encouraged at the outset of the health crisis. The workers in the services sector have grown accustomed to health protocols, such as frequent washing of hands, wearing of face masks and face shields in public places, and social distancing.

 

We should now bring back our employees in such services as legal and accounting, management and consultancy, architecture and engineering, science and research development, advertising and market research. The government should also encourage workers in computer programming, publishing, printing, film, music/TV production and employment activities that include recruitment and placement agencies for overseas employment, photography, wholesale and retail trade and motor vehicles repair, to go back to their workplaces to support the economy.

 

These are labor-intensive industries that can reduce our unemployment rate. Six months of quarantine or lockdowns have taught these workers to be responsible and extra careful in avoiding Covid-19 infection. I believe the key to a more aggressive reopening of the economy is still the strict enforcement of the health protocols.

 

The fight against Covid-19 will not be over until the successful testing of candidate vaccines. In the meantime, we should recalibrate our strategies again as the battle progresses. From enhanced community quarantine to granular lockdowns, we can now focus on preventive health care as our doctors suggest. Our Covid-19 data shows that only a small percentage can be considered serious cases. Many infections are mild ones and are treated merely with doses of vitamins to boost the immune system of the patient.

 

I fully agree with the proposals of doctors to promote the intake of proper nutrition to strengthen immunity to the coronavirus. The prevention or early treatment will surely help ease the burden of our hospitals. Building up the immune system of our workers and the rest of the population through state intervention at the barangay level will prevent Covid-19 cases reaching our hospitals.

 

The virus prevention measures should prepare some parts of the country, especially Metro Manila, to more relaxed quarantine rules next month. As I have been saying in this column before, we should reopen more aggressively to help the economy recover. Reopening is the only way to avoid permanent damage to the economy.