THE lockdown measures, despite the recent easing, have proven to be a burden for the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) noting that some have decided to halt operations until the end of April.
Talking to MSMEs, DTI found out that many opted to suspend operations for this entire month, seeking to hopefully jumpstart their business once lockdown measures become less restrictive, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said in a radio interview on Monday.
The government on Sunday eased the lockdown protocols in National Capital Region (NCR) Plus—Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna—from enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to modified ECQ (MECQ) until April 30.
“Base sa nakausap naming MSMEs, lalo na dito sa restaurant industry, talagang sabi ho nila, marami sa kanila, magsasara na lang muna hanggang April (Based on our discussions with MSMEs, especially the restaurant industry, many of them said they would remain closed in April),” Lopez said.
These restaurants decided to shut down temporarily despite being permitted to operate under MECQ, Lopez said.
According to MECQ guidelines, outdoor dine-in and take-out deliveries are allowed.
This poses concerns for those restaurants without outdoor dining capacity, especially if they are located inside a mall, Lopez said, noting that indoor dining is not permitted under MECQ.
Under MECQ, the establishments not allowed to operate include theaters, cinemas, internet cafes, amusement parks, casinos, libraries, museums and beauty salons, among others.
Lopez has yet to reply to a query on how many MSMEs exactly opted to close temporarily until the end of April.
Meanwhile, the Trade chief recalled that more businesses had been resuming operations when the country shifted to general community quarantine, which is more permissive in terms of mobility compared to ECQ and MECQ.
In a survey conducted from January 28 to February 10, the number of businesses that have stopped operations during pandemic has gone down to 4.6 percent.
Lopez, in an earlier statement, said that the figure peaked last year at 34.2 percent. It went down to 10 percent in October and further declined to 5 percent by November last year.
But the recent figure is seen to have worsened with the recent imposition of ECQ, Lopez said. DTI has yet to release an updated survey.
Finex, MAP weigh in
While the business sector welcomed the easing of lockdown measures, two private groups emphasized the need for the government to step up their Covid-19 response amid heightened number of cases.
“We are glad that the ECQ has been modified to MECQ as it means that more industries can re-open and more employees can go back to work,” Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (Finex) said in a statement on Monday.
But the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) said that Covid-19 cases remain at “alarming” levels amid nearly filled hospital occupancy rates with the recent shift to less restrictive lockdown protocols.
“We hope the government ensures that reopening is accompanied by strengthening of containment measures,” MAP National Issues Committee Chairperson Rizalina Mantaring told the BusinessMirror.
Both business groups stressed that contract tracing should be improved while healthcare facilities get needed support amid surging Covid-19 cases. Mantaring suggested that the country also “augment our healthcare workers with medical personnel from areas where there are low case counts, and even military medical personnel.”
Mantaring and Finex President Francisco ED. Lim agreed that the vaccination procurement and logistics should be streamlined to speed up the inoculation program.
Meanwhile, the MAP official said the government might also need to consider reallocating funds for additional aid to the vulnerable sectors, as well as the struggling businesses.
“We reiterate that lockdown should not be the primary tool to address the pandemic. Continued lockdown will aggravate the damage to the economy and cause continued pain and suffering to our people,” Lim said.