MANILA - The Philippines is in a "far worse" situation than it was when it went on lockdown last August, the country's largest business group said Monday as it urged government to allow private firms to assist in COVID-19 tracing and vaccination efforts.
Metro Manila and nearby provinces have formed the NCR Plus bubble and were placed under a weeklong enhanced community quarantine, the strictest in a 4-step measure, beginning Monday.
Government needs to intensify COVID-19 testing and tracing as "lockdown is not the answer," said Benedicto Yujuico, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI).
"We are in a far worse situation today than we were in the beginning of this year and far worse than we were in August," he told ANC's Headstart.
"The Philippines has had the longest lockdown in the world, our GDP (gross domestic product) dropped the most. You can see from there that lockdown is not the answer. Other countries that did not do the lockdown, their GDP did not drop that much but they’re recovering now."
There is "never a good time" to go on lockdown as people this week might have been off work due to public holidays but they had plans to go on vacation, Yujuico said.
"We need to trace very carefully where it’s coming from and where the COVID is going to. I think we need to improve a lot in the area of tracing as well. This is where the private sector definitely can help," he said.
"The basic things we have to do, all of us, we have to observe the basic protocols...Other than that we need to make sure people are employed, people have money. It is so regrettable to die from COVID, but it is unforgivable to die of hunger."
Yujuico also suggested that the Philippines "set up their own vaccine production facility."
"So that when this happens again we will have our own supply," he said.
He reiterated the group's call on government to allow private firms to import COVID-19 vaccines directly.
"Please allow the private sector to import vaccines without restrictions. Sabihin nila very clearly ano 'yung guidelines na dapat sundin ng private sector so they can in fact import vaccines directly. It can help mitigate itong lack of vaccines natin," he said.
(They should state very clearly what are the guidelines the private sector needs to follow so they can import vaccines directly. It can help mitigate our lack of vaccines.)
"We are in an emergency here. We should not look at whether a company is producing beer, etc, people are dying. If you can import and follow the guidelines, go ahead because the country needs vaccines."
The country's economy last year registered a -9.5 percent growth, its first contraction since 1998's 0.5 percent decline due to the Asian financial crisis.
The economic downturn was also worse than the 7 percent contraction recorded in 1984, making it the steepest post-war slump in Philippine history, using available PSA data dating back to 1947.