With 14 million workers returning to work and the easing of quarantine rules today, the country could see 2,500 new cases of COVID-19 in the last half of May, a lawmaker said, even as the Department of Health reported 215 new cases Friday, bringing to total to 12,091 infections.
The department also reported 16 new deaths, bringing the total fatalities to 806, while 123 new recoveries brought the number of patients who survived COVID-19 to 2,460.
Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, chairman of the committee on ways and means, said the decision to ease the lockdown was “economically near-optimal”—balancing the need of workers to resume working and the need to keep the volume of infections under control—but warned that outbreaks are still possible without testing and tracing.
“From an economic optimization standpoint, this means that for fewer new cases (2,535), the new regime will release more workers (14,605,000 newly allowed to go to work) and more economic activity (as much as 10.7 percent of quarterly gross domestic product, or about 2.7 percent of annual GDP), than if, say high-density areas such as Metro Manila or Cebu City were placed under significantly less strict regimes.”
“The 2,500 new cases within two weeks once the quarantine is lifted in some areas, will have to decline every week with testing and tracing. The initial recommendation is for 40,000 tests a day,” he said.
“In terms of the employment impact of Covid-19, we estimate that some 1.09 million Filipino workers have already lost their jobs, with more job losses to come as the full impact of the pandemic on the financial position of companies are quantified. Under the new regime, some 14.6 million workers will be allowed to go to work on-site, on top of the 27.4 million currently allowed to work. This would result in some 34.1 million being allowed to work, with only some 700,000 workers still not allowed to go to work on-site.”
“For the second quarter, we expect to have lost as much as 1.09 million jobs, with about 0.96 million seasonal jobs lost, and some 126,000 permanent job losses. For perspective, to create an equivalent number of jobs in the infrastructure sector, one would need a P94 billion investment,” Salceda added.
The recently announced changes in community quarantine regimes will result in across-the-board increases in mobility, he said.
The Palace on Friday reminded the public that while the government relaxed the guidelines on areas placed under the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) and general enhanced community quarantine (GCQ) starting May 16, law enforcement agencies will continue to enforce the appropriate quarantine restrictions.
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Palace spokesman Harry Roque said the IATF placed Metro Manila and two other high-risk areas under MECQ while it placed several moderate-risk places under GCQ from May 16 to May 31 to help contain the spread of the coronavirus
Eight regions, 37 provinces, 11 cities, including the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) areas with low risk of coronavirus infection were placed under “modified general community quarantine (MGCQ)” instead of being removed from the lockdown rule starting May 16.
READ: 37 ’low-risk’ areas put back under quarantine
The local government executives will have guidelines on how to implement the modified GCQ so they will have the authority to contain the spread of the virus. If there is no quarantine, we expect there might be second or third wave (of infection),” he said.
Under the MECQ, some businesses will partially open to boost the economy.
To avoid being stopped in checkpoints, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año urged workers to bring their IDs and certificates of employment when traveling. However, since public transport remains suspended, he said companies should provide shuttle service for their employees.
“We have no area in the entire Philippines that is not under community quarantine at different levels. These low-risk areas will be under modified general community quarantine and we will have guidelines that will be followed by the local government units,” Año said.
Roque said public transport is still prohibited under the MECQ. No domestic flights and only limited international flights will be allowed. Inbound travel of overseas Filipino workers and returning Filipinos will be controlled.
Public shuttles, on the other hand, are allowed under all quarantine zones but it will only be available for frontliners under the ECQ.
Personal vehicles can be used under the MECQ by persons or workers in permitted sectors or activities but only two passengers are allowed per row.
Police said officers would be deployed in malls starting Saturday to ensure social distancing is observed.
In a statement, Joint Task Force Coronavirus Shield (JTF CV Shield) commander, Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, said these police officers would assist the security personnel of malls in implementing basic protocols against COVID-19, such as physical distancing and the wearing of face masks.
“With some of the shops inside the malls now allowed to open, we expect an influx of people in these areas so we want to make the police presence felt there in order to ensure that they will strictly follow the rules for their safety from the coronavirus,” Eleazar said.
In other developments:
• IATF is still evaluating the appeal of several provincial governments to place their respective localities under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), Malacañang said on Friday. Various provincial governments have appealed to the IATF to consider the reclassification of their community quarantines from GCQ to MECQ beginning May 16 for fear that a sudden relaxation of restrictions could bring about a new spate of infections.
• At least 102 employees from the Department of Agrarian Reform have been tapped to assist in mega swabbing centers for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing. Primo Lara, DAR’s administrative service director, said the personnel would assist as encoders or bar coders in the four mega swabbing centers to be set up in Greater Manila Area and Bulacan to boost the country’s capability and capacity for mass testing for COVID-19.
• A lawmaker on Friday urged government and private banks to launch a special lending program for millions of small and medium-scale businesses in the country that are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Deputy Majority Leader and Quezon City Rep. Precious Castelo filed the “Loan Program Assistance for SMEs affected by COVID-19 Act” mandating big private universal banks to lend to small businesses. Deputy Majority Leader and Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernandette Herrera, meanwhile, appealed to banks and other financial institutions to “go the extra mile” in helping pandemic-hit businesses by extending their loan maturities by at least one year.
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