March 26, 2021

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) assures the public that the Philippine government’s priority is to ensure people’s well-being and safety from COVID-19, while giving them opportunities to earn a living and address their needs.

“The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has taken a careful and calibrated approach by focusing on localized quarantines and addressing the sources of highest risk, so that the jobs and livelihood of the far majority will not be affected,” Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua.

“Back in October 2020, the IATF recommended further reopening of the economy because the data showed us that COVID-19 cases were going down and that hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs and millions were going hungry. At the time, cases did not spike. This was the case even during the Christmas season and the following weeks after that,” explained Chua during a Malacañang press briefing with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. The media briefing was also attended by National Task Force (NTF) Against Covid-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., and testing czar Secretary Vince Dizon.

When the quarantine restrictions were gradually relaxed, significant improvements were seen. Around 1.4 million jobs were recovered in the last quarter of 2020, and the hunger incidence improved in areas outside NCR with less stringent forms of quarantine.

However, Chua said the recent increase in COVID-19 cases, which is likely due to the presence of mutated and more contagious variants of the coronavirus, warranted an urgent review of the quarantine measures. He said that after careful analysis of the situation, the IATF recommended to the President to retain the general community quarantine status (GCQ) of Metro Manila, and to revert the neighboring provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal to GCQ, along with imposing additional restrictions and stricter enforcement of health protocols in these areas. Chua said that instead of reverting to a modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) or subjecting the entire country in another lockdown, the IATF decision will allow people to still work and earn a living while we address the spike in cases.

Chua explained that MECQ effectively shuts down an area’s economy. On the other hand localized quarantines with additional restrictions are more manageable as essential industries and services continue to operate, transportation remains available, and offices implement work-from-home arrangements. Outdoor dining and take-out and delivery options are also allowed.

In the same briefing, Secretary Dizon and Secretary Galvez explained that we are now better equipped to address the surge in cases as compared to a year ago. Dizon said that the country now has 229 testing laboratories and conducts more than 50,000 tests daily unlike in early 2020 when we had “almost zero” capability to screen individuals for COVID-19. He also said a person can now get the test result in less than 24 hours as compared to three weeks in the past. The Philippines tested 9.1 million individuals as of March 21, 2020 according to the Department of Health.

The NEDA chief also emphasized that addressing the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases remains the top priority for the IATF. The government will continue increasing our testing capacity and rolling out the vaccination program while adhering to minimum health and safety standards.

However, these strategies also need to be balanced with the overall impact of the pandemic on human welfare and development.

“To help Filipinos cope with the impact of the pandemic and the community quarantines, the 2021 budget has 284 billion pesos worth of subsidies and assistance. We need to ensure that the implementation of these programs are accelerated,” Chua said.

Chua also raised the alarm on the growing number of people who are suffering from other diseases—such as cancer, diabetes, and hypertension—and are not able to seek treatment either due to lack of resources for healthcare, mobility restrictions, or the fear of getting infected in the hospitals.

“Our concern is that this year or next year, there will be more people afflicted with these diseases who are no longer able to get well or get better because they had foregone treatment last year. We also have to think about their welfare. This is why NEDA is recommending a holistic and balanced approach to help those suffering from COVID, non-COVID illnesses, or even hunger and joblessness,” Chua said.