Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said on Wednesday the government is looking at the possibility of tapping the financial assistance from multilateral lenders such as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank to support countries’ response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
“We are currently in discussions with the DOH [Department of Health] on a loan package with multilateral agencies…,” Dominguez said in a message to reporters.
He said the World Bank’s announcement Wednesday of the financing package for countries to counter the COVID’s impact was a welcome development.
Dominguez said if the Philippines taps the financing package, it would be used by the Department of Health “with emphasis of quick reactions to COVID-19 and similar events.”
Dominguez said the government was closely monitoring the effects of the contagion on tourism and the supply chain of different industries and preparing the appropriate fiscal responses.
“I am certain that the Monetary Board is ready as well with measures to counter the ill effects of COVID-19,” he said.
The World Bank said as COVID-19 reached more than 60 countries, it was making available an initial package of up to $12 billion in immediate support to assist countries in coping with the health and economic impact of the global outbreak.
In a statement, the World Bank said this financing was designed to help member countries take effective action to respond to and, where possible, reduce the harmful effects posed by the COVID-19.
The Manila-based Asian Development Bank earlier approved $2 million to help Asia-Pacific developing countries contain the Covid-19 outbreak and improve resilience against other communicable diseases.
On Tuesday, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno said in a forum in Makati City that the country’s economic outlook remained bright despite the threats posed by COVID-19, most especially to the tourism industry, which is one of the pillars of strength of the economy.
Last week, Diokno said BSP was not ruling out the possibility of having bigger cuts in interest rates this year to counter the impact of the disease and to boost economic growth.
Diokno before the end of 2019 has committed to a 50-basis-point cut in interest rate in 2020. The Monetary Board last Feb. 6, 2020 had already cut the policy rate by 25 basis points to 3.75 percent.
More cuts are expected in the succeeding meetings.
The government earlier projected a 6.5 to 7.5 percent growth in gross domestic product this year. Dominguez in a Senate hearing said the government was sticking to this target despite the threats of the coronavirus disease.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Wednesday his department is seeking some P2 billion in funds to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as medical supplies are rapidly depleting globally.
President Rodrigo Duterte has approved a proposed supplemental budget but this still needs the approval of Congress, Duque said.
Duque on Wednesday said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) opted to relax the travel restrictions on South Korea as dependents of permanent residents of this country and Hong Kong, Macau are now exempted from the travel ban.
READ: PH eases travel ban vs. South Korea
Duque cited South Korea’s low fatality rate of 0.5 percent and the containment of local transmission to only certain areas.
He said the travel restriction in these countries was enforced as stringent infection control measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Duque said the IATF-EID provides that Filipinos bound for those places will be allowed to travel provided that they sign a declaration signifying their knowledge and understanding of the risks involved. It was not immediately clear if the same exemption applies to inbound Filipino dependents.
It was also resolved during the meeting to partially lift the travel restrictions on South Korea, paving the way for the resumption of Filipino tourist visits to the country.
“The IATF-EID is closely monitoring the spread of COVID-19 cases in other countries and is regularly updating its travel restrictions based on standardized risk assessment indicators,” said Duque.
The Philippines has also implemented travel restrictions on mainland China, where the virus originated.
Meanwhile, Duque said at least 196 Filipinos from Macau will be repatriated this week. They will be
treated as persons under monitoring by the DOH.
As such, they will have to undergo self-quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in the country.
Duque said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will assist the 148 Filipinos from Macau while the remaining 48 will be assisted by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) since they are active members of the agency.
“The task force approved the plan for the DFA to repatriate 148 Filipinos from Macau via chartered flight within the week and for OWWA to repatriate 48 active OWWA members via commercial flight,” he said.
Like the previous batches of repatriated Filipinos, the two new batches will undergo the same protocol set by the government in light of COVID-19 spread prevention.
At least 458 Filipinos from the repatriation mission in virus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess in Japan are under quarantine at the Athletes’ Village in New Clark City since February 26.
Initially, 80 overseas Filipinos on the ship tested positive for COVID-19 and were being treated in Japan.
Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a briefing that 40 of them have recovered and that 21 have already returned to the country.
Vergeire said one of the 16 symptomatic patients repatriated from the virus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship has been admitted to a hospital in Tarlac due to diarrhea.
She said the other 15 were returned to quarantine quarters in New Clark City in Capas town from different hospitals nearby after their specimens tested negative for COVID-19.
In related developments:
- The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said it is preparing measures to protect workers from the coronavirus or COVID-19 as it urged industry leaders to adopt “flexitime” work arrangements for workers in industries due to the virus outbreak. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the labor department is now preparing a wide-range set of actions that would protect the labor sector from any impact from the epidemic.
- DOLE said it would slow the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait after it began requiring travelers from 10 countries, including the Philippines, to present medical certificates before entering the country. Bello said the delay would mean a worker could wait up to a month before getting an overseas employment certificate.
- The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration acknowledged that some Filipinos domestic workers lost their jobs in Hong Kong due to increasing cases of COVID-19. Sixteen Filipinos had their labor contracts terminated by employers who left the Chinese special administrative region in fear of the virus, OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac said.