Small businesses can’t afford COVID-19 testing, says Philippine Chamber

Warren de Guzman, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 19 2020 08:52 PM

Small businesses can’t afford COVID-19 testing, says Philippine Chamber 1
SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City opens to the public on the first day of the modified enhanced community quarantine on May 16, 2020. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA—Small businesses cannot afford to shoulder the cost of testing their employees for COVID-19 infection, one of the country's largest business groups said on Tuesday. 

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) said that, while large corporations can pay for the extra expense of testing their employees, medium, small and micro enterprises (MSMEs) are already struggling financially because of the measures imposed to check the spread of COVID-19. 

“Actually, insofar as our large corporations are concerned, they have the money to actually underwrite the costs of tests for their employees,” said PCCI president and former Ambassador Benedicto Yujuico.

“If we talk of the MSMEs, they can hardly afford to keep their employees, much less do these tests which are very costly. A PCR [costs] P10,000. That is one month’s salary. How do we expect the SME to afford that? Government has to come in, the province and responsibility of the DOH [Department of Health].”

The government earlier said that it “welcomes” the initiatives by private companies to test their employees for COVID-19, as the government cannot implement mass testing due to lack of resources.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque later clarified this saying the government was implementing "expanded targetted testing."

Yujuico, meanwhile, said that many of their members, which are MSMEs, said they could close in one to two months if business remains bleak. 

“We don’t think substantial businesses have started to close but a lot of them are telling us, without the financial assistance they need, in one or two months, they will have to shut down,” he said.

Yujuico added that when malls were allowed to reopen, many of the PCCI’s members also resumed operations hoping to finally start earning again. However, many small businesses were disappointed by their sales. 

“They said, ‘Why did we open when nobody is going to buy? We will lose more money if no one is going to walk into our shops’,” he said. 

Yujuico said pictures of crowded malls did not tell the complete story, as these crowds were only out “shopping for food.” 

If business remains slow and consumer confidence low, shops could simply opt to stay closed until the end of the month when the modified lockdown is lifted, the PCCI official said. 

The Department of Trade and Industry meanwhile said Tuesday it would start processing loans on June 1 loans for MSMEs displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic.