Balancing health and economy: a quick vaccine rollout is key

MANILA “The best way to achieve balance in health and the economy is through the quick rollout of the Covid-19 immunization program,” says OCTA Research Group fellow Prof. Guido David said in a television interview.

Despite the reopening of business establishments and other economic activities, people still do not seem to be confident of going out of their homes without the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, says another OCTA Research Group member.

“We will have a lot more confidence once the vaccine rollout starts to happen and is working. Even if we open the economy, consumers will still be reluctant to go out and enjoy the travel because of the threat of the virus,” David said.

Gradual reopening is welcome

He said health professionals do not oppose the safe and gradual reopening of the economy, but they remind the public of serious threats with the coronavirus UK variant if the government will “relax everything too quickly”.

Earlier the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) proposed to President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire country under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).

But David said moving to MGCQ, particularly for Metro Manila, may lose the Government’s capability to be more effective in its hammer and dance strategy.

“For example, if there’s a spike in cases we can recalibrate and adjust back, and we have that capability precisely because we’re still under GCQ,” he said. “If we move to MGCQ, we may lose that capability to be more effective in the hammer and dance approach because we are opening up everything too quickly. And if the surge happens, will we be able to handle it? And that is an important question to ask.”

Not another Metro Cebu slip

The OCTA Research fellow also warns the public of the possibility of replicating the holiday surge in Metro Cebu if Metro Manila will be placed in more lenient community quarantine measures.

Of the three major metro cities in the country, David said, Metro Cebu recorded a surge during the Christmas holidays, while there was no spike in Covid-19 cases in Metro Manila and Metro Davao during the same period.

During that time, Metro Manila and Metro Davao were under GCQ while Metro Cebu was under MGCQ.

“Cebu City had less than 10 cases per day back in December; then after the holiday, more than 200 cases per day came about.

“So the potential is there. And with the stimulation, if a surge similar to what happened in Cebu happens in Metro Manila, then from 400 cases we will have 2,400 cases per day in a matter of 36 days if we go with the same rate of infection in Cebu City,” he explained.

He added that the risk is greater in Metro Manila because of the population density of the National Capital Region.

David said there will be the risk of going back to a stricter lockdown if the surge happens, which could be costlier to the economy.

Consumer confidence equates to consumer spending

In the same interview, trade and industry (DTI) secretary Ramon Lopez concurs with David’s observations saying that the reopening of more business establishments does not automatically translate to consumer confidence.

However, Lopez counters that allowing some more economic activities will give consumers the option to spend and will provide income for workers compared to keeping certain sectors closed.

For instance, cinema workers will get paid with the reopening of movie houses even if there are no moviegoers coming in, he observes.

The DTI chief says, of the 548 cinemas in MGCQ areas, only 148 are operating.

“Their capacity utilization is at 1 percent. But at least they are open and there are workers getting paid,” Lopez says. (BG/Headline PH)

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