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Lockdown last resort amid new COVID-19 variant

ACTING Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua, said reimposing a strict lockdown should be the last resort for the government, despite the detection of the highly infectious variant of the coronavirus in the country.

In his presentation at the Junior FINEX (JFINEX) online forum on Thursday, Chua said the strictest form of lockdown, where 75% of the economy was shut down, caused 23.7 million more people to go hungry, 4.5 million more to slip into poverty, and roughly 2.7 million to lose their jobs.

“The economy is strong enough to recover if we allow it to do so. But our quarantine restrictions prevent the economy from fully recovering and the answer to that is not to give more subsidies but to open the economy more, because all the subsidies will be expensive for the people,” Chua said.

“We need to assess the risks around the new variant. It is part of living with the virus. We can prioritize the enforcement of health standards and proactive travel restriction. Higher quarantine should be the last resort,” he said.

Luzon was placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from mid-March to end-May, halting nearly all economic activity resulting to the Philippine economy falling into its first recession in nearly 30 years with a record 16.9% contraction in the second quarter.

Economic managers expect gross domestic product (GDP) to have contracted by 8.5-9.5% in 2020. Official GDP data will be out on Jan. 28.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. said that existing policies will remain in effect while waiting for the decision of Duterte and the task force for infectious diseases on any new measures that will be adopted to contain the new variant.

Chua, who heads the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), said the state should also make sure that the mass transport is sufficient yet safe, while stimulating consumer demand by allowing family activities.