After back-to-back record-high increases of daily COVID-19 cases, the IATF has decided on extending to at least one more week the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) over Metro Manila and the adjacent provinces of Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal. The current Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) is set to terminate on April 11.
On one hand, the Department of Health (DOH) as well as the University of the Philippines (UP) Octa Research group are pushing for a one-week extension in order to bring down the number of cases. On the other hand, business groups- such as the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) have cautioned against an extension, saying that “even large businesses are hurting and many smaller ones are on the verge of closing or have closed.”
The tradeoff in extending the lockdown is patently clear. We need to look no further than the impact of the two-month ECQ of Luzon from March 08 to May 31, 2020. Indeed, the stringent ECQ period brought down the number of cases. But the economic tradeoff was severe. Our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted to -0.2% in the first quarter of 2020, equivalent to a loss of Php 809.28 billion due to foregone economic activity.
By the end of the year, the economy had contracted by -9.5%. The first full-year economic contraction since the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis as well as the worst performance since 1947. To compare, the contraction wiped out nearly twice the full-year GDP growth of 5.9% in 2019. Family expenditure in 2020 declined by 7.2%. Spending on food increased to 5.3%, but this came with a tradeoff in education and health, which declined by 14.4% and 3.3%, respectively.
Clearly, we cannot rely on a COVID-19 strategy which relies heavily on locking down the economy whenever the health system is overwhelmed. The government should stop relying on hitting the nuclear lockdown button and rethink its overall plan. The World Bank shared this sentiment, stating in a report that countries like the Philippines which relied heavily on stringent lockdown measures fared worse than other economies that used effective test-based strategies. The World Bank also cut its economic growth forecast for the country to 5.5% this year in the same report.
Unless our government leaders can swallow this bitter pill, then we can expect to keep reverting to an Extremely Crappy Quarantine.
With a COVID-19 strategy that severely affects our economic tradeoff, the government should stop relying on nuclear lockdown button and rethink its overall plan. Unless our government leaders can swallow this bitter pill, then we can expect to keep reverting to an Extremely Crappy Quarantine.
Words by: Melchor Alejandro
Editing by: Christina Salazar