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Class dimensions of the COVID-19 crisis

"They don’t have savings. They don’t have water to wash their hands. They live in crowded shanties."

 

Filipinos have one of the most creative coping mechanisms when it comes to crisis situations. Memes, songs, poems, and of course, humor in various styles and undertones are being passed along by netizens, which at this time is probably the whole population. One Facebook post from a good friend that I liked and shared in red background and bold letter said, “WHAT PART OF STAY AT HOME DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND!” I don’t know the original source but the simple comment which I assume is a reaction to people still unmindful of how critical social distancing is in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

Changing people’s behavior has always been difficult even with well communicated enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) guidelines hammered 24 by 7 in all mediums. Government will expectedly match crisis policies with more stringent enforcement that will have some overstepping incidents.

Keeping people apart to cut off person-to-person infection, though logical and seems simple enough, will need discipline, something many people are not used to nowadays, and deliberate behavioral modification that will challenge every individual to overcome our naturally social culture. The social distancing and lockdown environment that is globally accepted as an effective anti-virus measure is easier for some and more difficult for most. This is a reality that is reflective of the socio-economic demographic of our society.

According to the report of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), “Addressing the Social and Economic Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic” (March 19, 2020), “The COVID-19 crisis appears to involve a class dimension: at the onset, the upper- and middle-income classes are the ones directly infected, because they are the ones who travel or are acquainted with ones who have travelled. Currently, the impact on the lower-income classes is mainly through the response measures being undertaken.”

“The response measures going forward should be re-configured to delicately balance the health and economic objectives, particularly as the impact varies by economic class. Otherwise, the situation could deteriorate to a social and political crisis.”

The report reveals that the total economic impact “given the simultaneous adverse effects on the supply and the demand side of the economy, we expect a cumulative loss of P428.7 to P1,355.6 billion in gross value added (in current prices), equivalent to 2.1 to 6.6 percent of nominal GDP in 2020. Without mitigating measures, this would imply a reduction in the Philippine’s real GDP growth to -0.6 to 4.3 percent in 2020. The government’s swift and appropriate response remains crucial in the softening the blow of COVID-19, particularly on the most vulnerable members of our society.”

If the negative impact persists until June, the NEDA’s high-end estimates on the potential impact on employment are estimated to affect 1.8 million persons with Luzon bearing the brunt with 1 million jobs lost. By sector, hard hit will be: Transport and Tourism, 56,000; Exports, 6,700; Remittances, 4,500; and Consumption at 62,500 workers. NEDA further warned that if the lockdown goes beyond the one month and the virus further spreads, these figures will be much worse.

Two weeks into the ECQ, we’ve seen how millions of poor citizens surviving to scratch out a living were shocked when all their daily patrons, their source for daily cash income, won’t be there to support them for at least a month. This is the desperation of the people living in slums. They don’t have savings. They don’t have water to wash their hands. They live in crowded shanties. You can see how this lockdown puts the poor in a desperate situation. Multiply this to thousands of families and you have a potentially destabilizing situation. Not good for anyone.

Thankfully, local governments pro-actively mobilized to give relief to their stranded constituents as the government shifted to crisis mode. Without much prodding, the forward thinking culture of the country’s top business groups quickly committed P1.5 billion to jumpstart Project Ugnayan in cooperation with the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation and Caritas Manila for the door to door distribution of grocery vouchers to at least 1 million families in the megapolis. As of this writing more than 30 big business groups are raising funds to reach more vulnerable families. The project also boosts ABS-CBN’s Pantawid Pag-ibig project.

On the government side, the Bayanihan Heal as One Act recently signed into law by the president authorizes the distribution of emergency cash aid of P5,000 to P8,000 (depending on prevailing minimum wage in the region) to 18 million low-income families. PhilHealth will shoulder all medical costs of workers during the duration of the ECQ. Health workers will also receive special risk allowance in addition to regular hazard pay. Now that the policy is in place, speed and efficiency will be key to the successful execution of all these emergency measures.

The guiding mantra set by the WHO is to Isolate, Test, Treat, Trace. We are starting to get the hang of social distancing but there is resistance from the DOH for mass testing because of the usual lack of resources. This is a frustratingly typical but valid point. Perhaps this is where the private sector and other funding institutions can come in for some creative approaches. The thinking is that if we know who has the virus and who does not, we can start planning on how to get the country back on track. The government can focus on testing the front liners and those who can’t afford. For those who can afford the tests, they should have ready access.

Topics: Orlando Oxales , coronavirus disease 2019 , COVID-19 , enhanced community quarantine , National Economic Development Authority , NEDA
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