President Rodrigo Duterte said he would not gamble on fully reopening the country’s economy and will not follow other the lead of other countries that were doing so and now grappling to contain a resurgence of COVID-19 infections.
“We have to be very circumspect in reopening of the economy. Slowly, slowly” the President said in a meeting with his Cabinet members and the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) t the Presidential Guest House in Panacan, Davao City, on Tuesday night.
Duterte said he doesn’t want the Philippines to follow the example of the United States, Brazil, Japan, or Korea, which are now experiencing spikes in COVID-19 cases after opening up their economies.
“If you open the entire Philippines and thousands upon thousands of new cases would happen, then we are in deep s***. That’s difficult. First, we don’t have enough money,” he said.
“We are poor and we cannot gamble. I cannot follow the example of other countries,” he said.
He defended the gradual easing of restrictions, from enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to a general community quarantine (GCQ), saying the number of people allowed to leave their homes is still within the “manageable” level.
“We are still grappling with the first wave,” the President said, citing the latest number of infections in the country at 34,178 of active cases. “Have we arrived at the second wave? I don’t think so.”
Palace spokesperson Harry Roque has said the Philippines had to partially reopen the economy or people would have died from a lack of livelihood.
The Palace official said the country’s health care system has enough critical care resources and that the majority of the cases were mild or asymptomatic.
“The report is the COVID-19 cases are raising. We expected this because there is no vaccine yet. But we are prepared and we have enough beds to accommodate those who will be infected,” Roque said.
As of Tuesday, the Philippines had 47,873 COVID-19 cases, with 12,386 recoveries and 1,309 deaths
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said there is a need to strike a “reasonable balance between safeguarding public health and restarting the economy.”
The head of the government’s economic team said that while the people’s health and safety remained the government’s top priority, Filipinos cannot keep retreating from the virus at the cost of their livelihoods, especially in Metro Manila and the Cavite-Laguna Batangas-Rizal-Quezon (Calabarzon) region that collectively accounts for 67 percent of the domestic economy.
“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,” Dominguez said during the pre-State of the Nation Address forum of the Cabinet’s Economic Development and Infrastructure Clusters held Wednesday.
Dominguez said the government would 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.
“This is a tough decision to make but we need to do this. Revving up the economy essentially means raising consumer and investor confidence, which requires some functional level of interaction among groups and individuals,” he said.
“We are asking all Filipinos to cultivate in themselves a renewed sense of confidence through continued vigilance–not out of fear, but with the knowledge that most factors of viral transmission are under our personal control,” he said.
Dominguez said the government remained fully committed to implementing the “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program with more projects focused in the areas of health, education, housing, and water and sanitation.
The national government is working round-the-clock to minimize the socio-economic impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic and to ensure sustainable recovery of the economy, Malacañang said on Wednesday.
Ahead of President Duterte’s fifth state of the nation address (SONA) on July 27, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea made this assurance during the first of three pre-SONA forums aired over state-run PTV-4.
“We have been relentless in mobilizing every resource and seeking every opportunity to attain better days for our nation. We are confident that in spite of the continuation of this health crisis, our economy can resume its growth trajectory and that our economic and infrastructure development will generate jobs for Filipino workers enabling them to provide a more comfortable life for their families,” he said in his speech.
Medialdea acknowledged that the country will continue to face “immense challenges’ until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available. However, he also said the President will not lose focus on his priority to “save lives and protect communities” by taking immediate action.
Among these actions, he said was the President’s imposition of strong quarantine guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.
He said the President also rolled out “the largest economic protection program in our history” such as the small business wage subsidy (SBWS) for small business workers and social amelioration program for informal sector families while the government proceeded to enhance and establish health facilities across the country.
“The government is spending as much as it can to support our less privileged countrymen,” he said.
Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, meanwhile, said the country has enough funds in its war chest to respond, fight and mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,.
The government has so far disbursed P374.8 billion to help Filipinos fight the pandemic, Avisado said during a pre-State of the Nation forum.
With its good credit ratings, the Philippines can borrow additional funds at low rates and longer payment periods, Dominguez III said in the same forum.
“Debt is manageable and affordable to us,” Dominguez said.
Also on Wednesday, Senator Risa Hontiveros said the Department of Health (DOH) should be empowered to set the bed capacity of public hospitals, so they can easily upgrade their services during this crisis.
She renewed her call to authorize the DOH to set the bed occupancy rates of public hospitals to better prepare the country’s health care system for the resurgence COVID-19 infections in Metro Manila and other hotspots.
The senator made her call after several Metro Manila hospitals reported that their “intensive care units” handling COVID-19 patients are fast approaching their limit again, as cases of COVID-19 continue to spike in the capital.
Despite DOH assurances that Metro Manila hospitals are not yet overwhelmed, Hontiveros said the government should prepare for that possibility.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Red Cross said it now has a total testing capacity of 32,000 tests a day with the opening of its molecular laboratory in Batangas City, which has recently been certified as an accredited COVID-19 testing center by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.
Senator Richard J. Gordon, PRC chairman and CEO, said the facility, equipped with four RT-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) machines that can run a combined total of 4,000 tests a day, has the biggest testing capability in the CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) region and can cover other nearby provinces.
Aside from the Batangas facility, the PRC also opened molecular laboratories in its former national headquarters in Port Area, Manila, which can run 14,000 tests; Subic and Clark, 6,000 tests, and two in its headquarters in Mandaluyong, which can finish 8,000 tests a day.
PH tally soars over 50,000
The Philippines’ coronavirus case tally crashed the 50,000 barrier on Wednesday as the Department of Health reported 2,539 new confirmed cases, including 1,922 “fresh” ones.
The total now stands at 50,359 – from just under 48,000 on Tuesday – as the DOH also reported 202 new recoveries and five new deaths. Total deaths stood at 1,314, while recoveries numbered 12,588.