With the threat of the more transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant and a spike in the number of infections, business leaders said another lockdown would cause more economic pain—and hoped the measures would pay off.
The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), the Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII) and Go Negosyo agreed to a two-week lockdown as proposed by the OCTA Research Group, but asked for at least a week to make the necessary adjustments to their operations.
PCCI president emeritus George Barcelon said a new round of restrictions would hurt all aspects of business and lower government collections as well.
“If we have this lockdown, I would surmise that we will not fare better than the last two quarters. There was an upside towards the end of the second quarter but now with all these discussions on the Delta strain and the lockdown, I would think that the third quarter would probably be similarly negative,” Barcelon said.
“Our hope is hanging on all these actions to be taken to contain the Delta strain and to have the economy getting a big push towards the fourth quarter. We can only hope that this lockdown and the vaccination efforts work for the common good,” he said.
FFCCCII president Henry Lim Biong said he believed that the business community has no choice over these matters.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow but we have to do this. I encourage all companies that have the capacity to pay their workers, even at half their salaries, to pay them for these two weeks in lockdown. But this is not compulsory because a lot of companies are bleeding at the moment,” he said.
“This lockdown, even for just two weeks, will cause tremendous loss to the economy,” he added.
But Go Negosyo founder Joey Conception said there was no better time to impose another hard lockdown than in August.
“We are in total agreement that if we do a total lockdown, let’s not wait. Let’s nip it while we can,” he said, noting that August is a slow month anyway because of the monsoon rains.
Both Liong and Barcelo said the sacrifice of a lockdown could help ensure a stronger and safer economic recovery for the last quarter, traditionally the best time of the year for business.
ING Bank senior economist Nicholas Antonio Mapa, meanwhile, said another round of lockdowns would likely derail the very fragile economic recovery.
He said when the government tightened restrictions, the Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), a measure of the prevailing direction of economic trends in manufacturing, reverted to a contraction, while unemployment bounced up to 8.7 percent.
“The Delta variant will also force Filipinos back into voluntary quarantine with trips to the mall and or restaurants likely becoming
less frequent with anxiety rising for fear of catching the virus,” he said.
“Even before the advent of Delta, we had penciled in a 4.7 percent GDP for 2021 and should we return to another round of lockdowns we will likely have to downgrade GDP projections further,” Mapa said.
Reports on Wednesday said there was a proposal from OCTA Research to implement a two-week hard lockdown to prevent the spread of the more infectious Delta variant of the virus.
The Department of Health (DOH), however, has said there is no need for another lockdown yet.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said the risks from the Delta variant are higher but the response of economic managers is to manage the risks by ensuring much faster vaccination rate and limiting more stringent lockdowns to local areas or sectors with the highest risk, while allowing the rest of the people, especially those already vaccinated, to earn a living.
“Our experience last March to April, where we were able to do a better balance can guide our response,” Chua told reporters in a message.
Meanwhile, the Bankers Association of the Philippines said banking services will continue although the number of bank personnel to be allowed to report to work may be affected if a two-week lockdown is imposed.
“Banks continue to be committed to their customers; and while the scale of banking personnel present may be adjusted, the services continue as demonstrated since March 2020,” Benjamin Castillo, managing director of the Bankers Association of the Philippines, told Manila Standard in an emailed message Wednesday.