Q2 economic plunge 'cost' of prioritizing saving lives vs COVID-19: NEDA

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 07 2020 01:28 PM

A man walks his dog past a mural in Valenzuela City by Sim Tolentino and Bria Barrios showing support for health workers, August 6, 2020. Czar Dancel, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua said Friday the steep economic drop in the second quarter was the unintended "cost" of imposing lockdowns to save lives from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The country's lockdowns that started in March helped prevent some 1.3 million to 3.5 million infections, Chua said in a televised briefing. 

Without the lockdowns, severe cases could have surged to 68,000 while deaths could have reached 59,000 to 170,000, he said.

"Let's look at the cost. As a result of the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), shut down 75 percent. This will be a drawn-out struggle. We are in a marathon rather than a sprint, kaya dapat pag-isipan natin ang tugon para hindi mawalan ng resources lalo na kung magtagal ang problema," Chua said, referring to the strictest lockdown level earlier imposed in Luzon and other COVID-19 hotspots.

(That's why we need to think about the response so that resources will not be depleted if this drags on)

"Kung marami ang magkakasakit at mamatay hindi rin makakamit ang magandang balance ng ekonomiya," he added. 

(If many will get sick or die, we won't be able to achieve economic balance.)

The entire island of Luzon was placed under lockdown in March. The restrictions were eased in June 1, but Metro Manila, Rizal, Cavite, Laguna and Bulacan reverted to modified enhanced community quarantine this week until Aug. 18 as cases surged.

Part of the "cost" in prioritizing saving lives from the disease, the country's gross domestic product contracted by 0.7 percent in the first quarter and dropped 16.5 percent in the second quarter, which was "one of the lowest levels," Chua said.

Household consumption in the second quarter dropped 15.5 percent, partially offset by government consumption that grew 22.1 percent, he said.

Investments dropped 53.3 percent, as well as imports and exports. Trade data, however, started its recovery from its "negative trajectory" in June, the National Economic and Development Authority said Thursday.

Despite the steep economic drop, Chua said the government is confident of a recovery. But its response should be calibrated as global experts predict that the pandemic could last longer.

The priority now is not just saving lives from the disease but also saving Filipinos from poverty, he said.

Officials on Thursday revised its economic growth forecast for the year to a contraction of as much as 5.5 percent from the earlier forecast of a 3.4 percent drop, based on estimates of the Development Budget Coordination Committee estimates. 

The Philippines on Thursday surpassed Indonesia as the Southeast Asian country with the most number of COVID-19 infections after cases surged to 119,460 as of Aug. 6.