Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 15) — Strict quarantine rules left millions more Filipinos hungry, poor, and jobless, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said as he defended plans to restart the economy.
"Mas mabigat po ang naging halaga o danyos ng COVID pagdating sa kagutuman [COVID-19 cost us more in terms of hunger]," Roque said Thursday, presenting grim estimates made by Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua which were shown to Cabinet members last Monday.
The economic team's estimates showed that while quarantine rules since March served to minimize COVID-19 infections, they had a dire impact on the quality of life in the country.
Chua's projections showed that the economic shutdown had driven an additional 23.7 million people into hunger and 4.5 million more into poverty. An additional 2.3 million Filipinos also lost their jobs due to strict quarantine measures, which were gradually eased starting May.
Roque shows NEDA's argument in pushing for further reopening the economy: Mas mabigat ang danyos pagdating sa kagutuman, with 23.7 million people deemed additional hungry.
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The Cabinet official also tallied 213,160 deaths from other causes from January to July, dwarfing the 6,449 fatalities among the country's 346,536 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of October 14.
The country is on its seventh month of quarantine. Although most towns and provinces have been placed on the least restrictive measures, Metro Manila – the country's main economic hub – remains constricted.
"Ito po ang dahilan kung bakit po inaprubahan noong huling meeting ng Gabinete ang bahagya pang pagbukas muli ng ating ekonomiya [This is the reason why the Cabinet approved proposals to further reopen the economy in our last meeting]," Roque said to explain the various easing measures approved by the Cabinet.
Experts, including the World Health Organization, have said that large-scale lockdowns are not encouraged anymore as a tool to keep coronavirus infections under control as they make people "an awful lot poorer."
During the full Cabinet meeting this week –– the first since the local outbreaks were confirmed –– the Executive approved the easing of physical distancing in public transport, allowed more industries including tourism to reopen, and let more Filipinos head out to shop and spend in order to revive consumer demand.
The Cabinet also made the reversal to stricter quarantine classifications a last resort in battling outbreaks.
Muted business activity and sales also mean lower revenue collections for the state to fund government programs, projects, subsidies, and debt payments.
The Philippine economy is in recession – the first time in decades after contracting by 9% during the first half of 2020.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases is enforcing the third phase of its National Action Plan against the coronavirus, and is actively moving away from risk aversion towards risk management.
For Roque and the task force, people can go out and ensure their own safety through wearing of face masks, face shields, keeping distance from others, and regular disinfection or washing of hands.