Lockdown not remedy for Covid surge, say employers, as NCR mayors deny agreeing to extension

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REOPENING the economy is necessary to prevent further economic damage and job losses, along with the continued rollout of Covid-19 vaccines and adherence to health protocols, the head of the employers’ group said on Saturday, as Metro Manila mayors denied reports that they had already agreed to extend until August 30 the two-week strictest lockdowns in the National Capital Region.

“It’s time we learn that lockdown is not the remedy,” Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) and Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. president Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr. said in a number of television-radio interviews, as talk of a possible extension – beyond August 20 — of the two-week enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila and several key regions continued to swirl.

On Saturday, NCR mayors refuted reports that they had already agreed to an extension until August 30.

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr. said that there was no truth to the news report quoting Paranaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez saying that all the metro mayors have agreed to the extension of the ECQ.

Abalos said he talked with Olivarez to confirm the news and that Olivarez refuted the report, adding that no meeting among Metro mayors occurred.

The mayors, Abalos stressed, are now focused on monitoring the number of Covid-19 cases in their respective jurisdictions, vaccination rollout, and distribution of “ayuda” or financial aid to low-income families affected by the ECQ which ends August 20.

“Any recommendation that will be made by the MMC shall be based on data, local government units capabilities, and experts’ [health and economic] studies,” Abalos stressed in a statement on Saturday.

For his part, ECOP’s Ortiz-Luis said in mixed English and Filipino, “Let’s compromise, we have to think that the economy is more important and we have to live with Covid-19.”

Ortiz-Luis expressed this view amid a possibility of extending the two-week enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila after Aug. 20 depending on Covid-19 statistics

Citing estimates, Ortiz-Luis said lockdowns cost the economy P150 billion a week, or P300 billion for the two-week ECQ.

The estimated lockdown losses are on top of business closures that lead to unemployment, he added.

“It would have been much productive and useful to channel even a fifth of these losses to strengthening our healthcare system to address the cases and for prevention measures”, he said.

Ortiz-Luis likewise noted that the number of deaths related to the coronavirus is small compared to those who die due to other diseases, and even suicide and hunger.

He said there is thus a need to intensify monitoring of severe cases as a large majority of Covid-19 infections are asymptomatic.

“Let us not be fixated on the numbers. Instead, let us intensify and fast-track our vaccination. Let us not forget practicing health protocols and comply with quarantine classifications,” he added. “Continue adding hospital rooms, facilities, Covid-19 centers…”.

He also reiterated the urgent need and importance of waiving the Data Privacy Act to facilitate contact tracing.

“Government has already suspended many of our civil rights in the interest of safety and health, the latest of which is the prohibition for those in the ECQ areas from going out of their homes for physical exercises,” he explained. “Many known personalities have already made voluntary disclosures on their Covid-19 cases. After all, this is not an embarrassing illness.”

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