Chua: With ramped up coronavirus testing, PH not likely to revert to ECQ
The country’s chief economist on Friday (July 10) expressed confidence that with coronavirus testing being ramped up, the country won’t have to revert to a very stringent lockdown to prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua told an online press briefing that the Bayanihan 2 package being crafted by Congress will contain not only monetary response to the health and socioeconomic crises caused by COVID-19 but also measures to resume business and consumer confidence through mass testing and full resumption of public transport.
The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which allowed President Rodrigo Duterte to realign funds for COVID-19 response at the height of the lockdown, already expired last month.
According to Chua, one objective in Bayanihan 2 was to fund the testing of at least 10 million Filipinos, including workers, in the next 12 months.
This would require raising actual tests from the current peak of 22,700 to 32,000 tests daily “in the coming weeks.”
“This would be sufficient to bring down the positivity rate to below 5 percent,” Chua said.
“Increased testing, tracing, isolation, and treatment are crucial to boost confidence, get people back to work, and restore consumption demand,” said Chua, who heads the state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).
“As confidence in work is restored, we also need to ensure sufficient and safe public transport,” Chua said.
The proposed Bayanihan 2, he said, has provisions to support public transport which included “service contracting” of public utility vehicles as incentive in resuming operations but “following reduced capacity and sanitation standards.”
“Once evidence of steady progress towards meeting the health targets is observed, we can further relax the community quarantines,” he said.
Village or towns could enforce quarantines “as needed,” Chua said.
He said the current testing trajectory “will not bring us back to ECQ.”
This was in response to concerns over a continued increase in number of infections, which breached the 50,000 mark this week, the second highest in Southeast Asia.
Chua and other government officials had explained that the rising number of COVID-19 cases also reflected the growing capacity to locate and test those infected with coronavirus.
The Duterte economic team had been pushing to further ease restrictions in the economy, which is now in recession and had shed millions of jobs during the ECQ imposed since middle of March. Philippine quarantine measures were said to be one of the most stringent in the world.
Neda estimates had shown that the economy shed P1.1 trillion, or 5.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), in the first 45 days of the ECQ, which ground to a halt at least 3/4 of economic activities.
Currently, only 75 percent of the economic engine is estimated to be humming under a less restrictive general community quarantine (GCQ).
Chua said he was optimistic that further ramping up testing will pave the way for the return of jobs and livelihood.
Chua said the COVID-19 recovery package pending in Congress will consist of a number of separate stimulus spending bills and fiscal support measures to aid small businesses and banks lending to struggling firms.
According to Chua, the Senate already agreed to Neda and the Department of Finance’s (DOF) position that the government can afford only P140 billion in additional spending to be funded by additional revenues and savings in a bid to keep the budget-deficit ceiling to a “manageable and sustainable” 9 percent of GDP.
Excluding the planned stimulus spending to fight COVID-19, the Cabinet-level Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) had already projected this year’s budget deficit to balloon to P1.6 trillion or 8.4 percent of GDP.
Chua said the proposed P4.3-trillion 2021 national budget, to be submitted by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to Congress’ in August, “will try to cover as many areas not covered this year.”
This includes “bigger infrastructure expenditures, which had taken a backseat to COVID-19 disbursements,” Chua said.
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