UP economists bat for selective opening of industries, random COVID-19 testing

Art Fuentes, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 23 2020 08:23 PM

MANILA--Several economists from University of the Philippines said the government should consider allowing selected industries to resume operations when the Luzon lockdown ends, and implementing random testing for COVID-19 to get a more accurate view of the spread of the virus and prevent a second wave of infections.

In a paper submitted to the UP School of Economics, 13 economists said the decision to lift the lockdown can be based not just on how many individuals are infected in an area, but also on how vital some industries are in sustaining the economy for the next 18 months.

The economists noted that it could take 18 months to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.

“Until then, intermittent but limited lockdowns will remain a policy tool for local and national public health authorities to wield when necessary,” the paper said.

Some industries that rate “high” in terms of their importance in sustaining the economy should be allowed to operate again, provided they do “sample-based random testing” for COVID-19, on top of strict hygiene measures, the economists said.

Among the sectors that can be allowed to resume are food and agricultural production, banking and finance, telecoms, and business process outsourcing firms, which besides being important to the economy also have a “low” risk of spreading the virus.

The UP economists said that workers in these industries just need to practice basic safety measures, such as social distancing, wearing protective masks, maintaining coughing manners and handwashing.

Transportation, logistics, food distribution firms, public markets, private security firms, construction firms can also be allowed to resume as they also rank high in terms of economic importance.

However, these industries have a higher risk of spreading the virus, and should take additional safety measures, and thus need to use additional personal protective equipment on top of practicing basic safety measures.

Malls, theaters, bars, resorts, casinos, and even schools and educational institutions, meanwhile, rank low in terms of importance in sustaining the economy for the next year and a half and should remain closed, unless they are located in provinces that have no infections.

People who are 60 years old and older, and those with prior health risks such as diabetes and high blood pressure should not be allowed to work, unless they are in areas confirmed to be free of infection, the UP economists said.

However, for these selected industries to continue to operate, sample-based random testing for the virus should be conducted from time to time “to anticipate whether and when second or third waves of infection may occur.”

The results of these tests will also help authorities gauge whether the curve is indeed flattening, the paper said.

Workers at firms that have a high risk of spreading the virus, such as transportation and logistics, may have to be tested weekly to allow for close to real-time monitoring, the economists said.

Workers in lower risk industries may be tested less frequently, like every two weeks, they added.

If any of the workers test positive for COVID-19, authorities could bring all workers to a certified quarantine facility, disinfect the workplace, and trace close contacts in the community where the infected worker lives.

With mass testing too costly in terms of time and resources, random testing is a more economical way to track virus infections, the economists said.

The UP Resilience Institute earlier said that while the Luzon lockdown has been effective in slowing the spread of the new coronavirus, lifting the quarantine measures could result in another wave of infections.

The institute backed a modified lockdown where some areas with a high probability of new infections must be quarantined, while those at lower risk could be allowed to return to normal.

Business groups have also called for a calibrated easing of the lockdown saying the economy could suffer further damage if the enhanced community quarantine is extended over the whole of Luzon.