As the government extended the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the so-called NCR Plus bubble for one more week until April 11 to slow down the spread of COVID-19, the rollout of vaccines must also be accelerated to help jumpstart a laggard economy.
According to BDO Unibank chief investment officer Frederico Rafael “Fritz” D. Ocampo, it is imperative that these two things be implemented for things to get back to normal.
“The pandemic is a public health issue, and so everybody wants to reopen the economy. Everybody wants to get back to normal. But the main issue is controlling the COVID spread and accelerating the vaccine rollout. Unless we’re able to do these two top of mind and priority issues, then all of our dreams of getting back to normal will remain just a dream,” he said in an interview with CNN Philippines. “What we have learned during the past year is when you have prolonged mobility restrictions, especially when you have a total lockdown of the economy, it just creates a lot of unemployed people and we tend to worsen the problem.”
Ocampo also lamented the unenviable task facing the government right now amid the continuous surge of COVID-19 cases.
“It’s a major challenge. The balancing act that you have to do right now is saving lives against saving jobs or saving the economy,” he added. “We have to contain COVID and we have to accelerate the delivery of vaccines and start rolling them out in a more aggressive way. The sooner we do that, then the better it will be for our recovery, our reopening of the Philippine economy.”
Under the ECQ bubble, travel to and from Metro Manila and the four adjacent provinces (Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal) is not allowed unless deemed as essential. These areas were also placed under a 6PM-5AM curfew except for food deliveries and other essential items. With these restrictions, the government hopes this will result to lesser increase in COVID-19 cases.
To help jumpstart the economy, Ocampo opined the recovery of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) must likewise be one of the priorities.
“The proposed ARISE (Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy of the Philippines) bill is still in the backburner. The longer we prolong the pain of the MSMEs, the more people will lose their jobs. The scarring could be permanent,” he said.
The ARISE Bill, passed by the House of Representatives in the third and final reading last year seeks to extend support to micro, small, and medium enterprises and other sectors affected by the pandemic
“We cannot talk yet of how they (MSMEs) are rebuilding because they’re still in pain. More and more companies have declared downsizing this late in the game. They need assistance and they need it now. If we assist them, they’ll hire their old workers back again. And these workers will consume, and that’s what we need. We are a service-driven economy,” Ocampo added.