MANILA - Business groups on Saturday expressed concern over calls by the medical community to lock down Metro Manila anew amid a worrying swell of COVID-19 cases.
In an interview on ABS-CBN's Teleradyo, Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) president Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr. said placing the country's capital region under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) could court further economic disaster from the COVID-19 fallout.
"Alam mo, talaga 'yang frontliners natin, talagang hirap na hirap sila. They're very tired, emotionally disturbed. But I think hindi remedyo ang ECQ. They're very good in what they do but I don't think they're very good in balancing the economy and health," he said.
The Philippine economy can contract to up to 3.4 percent this year due to the pandemic but recovery is expected in 2021 as activities gradually resume.
For Ortiz-Luis, it is important to balance both the economy and health care so the country could weather the crisis.
"We appreciate ang hirap ng mga frontliners . . . pero alam din natin 'yung galing nila do'n sa linya nila, iba naman ang linya nitong gobyerno. Ang gobyerno pwede magbalanse kung ano ang pwedeng gawin," he said.
What the government should focus on instead, Ortiz-Luis said, is to intensify contact tracing and testing, and isolate and treat COVID-19 cases while gradually easing restrictions.
"Ngayong nagre-recover na tayo . . . dapat 'yan mga economic managers ang dumiskarte niyan. Pagka ang health department ang dumiskarte niyan laglag tayong lahat. Lalo tayong hindi makakaahon. Baka mas marami pang mamatay sa gutom at saka sa gulo kaysa mamamatay sa COVID," he added.
Ortiz-Luis also criticized the government's apparent slow response to the pandemic.
"Nababagalan kami sa implementation. Dapat 'yung pagbabalanse ng ekonomiya at health, hindi lang naman COVID ang ikinatatakot natin . . . Ayusin natin 'yung implementation," he said.
Philippine Franchise Association president Sherill Quintana also raised alarm over halting anew economic activities following months of lockdown.
"It's not a zero-sum game na parang isakripisyo ang isang sector para do'n sa health sector . . . Kailangan talaga nating balansehin dahil kailangan natin iangat ang ekonomiya. Pareho tayong babagsak," she said.
Quintana estimated that some 86 percent in the franchising sector, which is populated by micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), have been severely affected by the lockdown rules.
"We have huge problem in terms of recovery and resilience," she said.
In a letter addressed to President Rodrigo Duterte, doctors and nurses have called on the government to revert Metro Manila's restriction to enhanced community quarantine for 2 weeks.
“We’re waging a losing battle against COVID-19 and we need to draw up a consolidated, definitive plan of action,” a statement from 40 medical societies read.
They said the country's health care system has been stretched thin, with some hospitals temporarily closing to decongest and health workers falling ill.
“Our health workers should not bear the burden of deciding who lives and who dies. If the health system collapses, it is ultimately our poor who are most compromised. In the end, winning the war against COVID-19 relies heavily on being able to keep our health system capacitated to address the need of all Filipinos,” the letter added.
“We hope our government heeds this plea.”
Metro Manila, home to roughly a tenth of the Philippines' 100 million population, remained as the country's coronavirus epicenter, with 50,611 cases.
Some 4,823 health workers have so far caught COVID-19, of which 38 have succumbed to the disease.
On Saturday, the Philippines marked a third day of record-high coronavirus infections at 4,963 new cases, raising the nationwide caseload to 98,232.
The tally includes 2,039 fatalities, 65,265 recoveries and 30,928 active cases.