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Lawmakers’ advice: End classes early, allow work from home

/ 05:05 AM March 08, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers on Saturday piled on their own proposals on how the government should contain and deal with the local transmission of the COVID-19 disease, from declaring an early school break, to allowing employees to work from home, to giving temporary relief to businesses and free protective masks to the public.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said closing schools early would help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

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The Department of Health (DOH) on Saturday confirmed that not only were there six confirmed COVID-19 cases but that the virus that causes the respiratory disease had already spread locally.

It cited the case of the wife of a 62-year-old diabetic who got infected, likely from her husband, who had not even visited any of the countries where the virus has been spreading.

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“There are only a few days left ’til the summer break, so we should ask DepEd (Department of Education) to just order the early break, as what has been done to hundreds of millions of school kids all over the world to avoid contamination and spread,” Zubiri said in a statement.

Gabriela Women’s Rep. Arlene Brosas suggested that the government give protective masks and provide free laboratory tests for the virus, especially to the poor, who were already reeling from low wages.

Brosas said the ordinary Filipinos’ out-of-pocket expenses for such things as masks and sanitizers have risen because of the COVID-19 threat.

P71B for health care

She said the P71 billion budget for universal health care “is hardly felt in times like this.” The money should be channeled directly to hospitals, she said.

Zubiri said the DOH should make testing kits available at hospitals so that anyone with cough and cold could be tested.

The DOH and the World Health Organization (WHO) do not recommend testing just anyone with cough and fever.

They said testing should be done only on people who may have gotten in contact with any of the confirmed cases and with symptoms of the disease.

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Health Secretary Francisco Duque III also opposes any class suspension at this time of the limited spread of the virus, saying this was “overreacting.”

Zubiri said closing schools would allow the authorities to disinfect and sanitize classrooms. This also should be done in the many shops, restaurants and other places visited by many people at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City after a company based there had confirmed that one of its employees was among the six confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Senators Joel Villanueva and Risa Hontiveros called on employers to allow their workers to work from home to lower their risk of contracting and spreading the virus.

Even though telecommuting was not applicable to all businesses, the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) should exert more effort to get employers to allow this to “minimize the risk of spreading diseases such as COVID-19,” said Villanueva, who authored the telecommuting law.

He noted that the Asian Development Bank has projected that the Philippine economy could lose between 87,000 to 252,000 jobs in five sectors, in addition to $669 million to $1.94 billion in gross domestic product, if COVID-19 spreads in the country.

Worker rotation

Hontiveros also supported the work-from-home option and expressed concern for workers in the service sector and those providing frontline services who mingle with many people daily.

Employers also should help protect workers from diseases by providing them access to running water, soap, alcohol, and hand sanitizers.

Sen. Christopher Go, who chairs the health committee, said he would recommend to the President the expansion of the Inter-Agency Task Force handling COVID-19 issues to include local governments and other state agencies for “a whole-of-society and proactive approach” to the disease.

Makati City Rep. Luis Campos Jr. said he favored granting provisional reprieves to travel and tourism-related businesses hit hard by the global health emergency, but the concessions should be tied directly to the job security of their employees.

He suggested that employers rotate their workers instead of laying them off permanently.

Dole and trade unions should help prepare a government action plan to support companies that would be affected, he added.

Campos made the remarks in reaction to a government plan to waive airport “landing fees” to help commercial carriers, such as Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific, which have been distressed by the sudden plunge in passenger traffic.

The “toll fees” at the country’s 42 airports paid by airlines are used to help maintain all airport runways.

The global aviation sector is one of the heaviest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, with the largest industry association estimating that revenue losses around the world will be at least $63 billion in case of a quick resolution of the crisis, and as high as $113 billion if it is prolonged.

Philippine Airlines is struggling with $209 million in losses for 2019 and has retrenched 300 workers. Cebu Pacific had predicted it would lose as much as P4 billion due to the epidemic.

—With reports from Melvin Gascon and Daxim Lucas

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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