The country’s chief economist on Monday said resuming businesses up to full capacity would fast-track economic recovery before year’s end as availability of more jobs would also perk up consumer confidence.
Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua told the Philippine Economic Society’s annual conference that the economic team was pushing to impose shorter curfew hours as well as multiple work shifts so that more consumers and workers could contribute to the economy.
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) on Monday reported a slightly bigger gross domestic product (GDP) contraction during the second quarter, revising the figure to a record 16.9 percent from the 16.5 percent announced in August.
According to the PSA, the bigger decline in second-quarter GDP was due to larger drops than earlier recorded in mostly consumer sectors, namely real estate as well as wholesale and retail trade, on top of a slower growth in financial and insurance activities.
Chua, who heads the state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), said employment numbers would be boosted if businesses’ operating capacity would be gradually expanded up to 75 to 100 percent.
For Chua, escalation of quarantine levels should only be a “last resort,” citing the reversal in gains to jobs, manufacturing and exports when Metro Manila and four neighboring provinces accounting for half of the economy reverted to a stricter two-week lockdown in August after COVID-19 cases surged.
Even as COVID-19 infections might be rising, Chua urged keeping the prevailing quarantine levels and movement restrictions while implementing stricter protocols and more localized containment.
Chua said the Philippines needed to shift its COVID-19 containment policies from total risk avoidance to risk management so that the government would not fight the pandemic at the expense of livelihoods.
The Neda chief said the key was to manage severe and critical cases in order to limit deaths to a manageable level by protecting the most vulnerable —the elderly and people with co-morbidities—while keeping hospitals’ utilization rate below 70 percent to ensure proper care for COVID-19 patients.
Chua said the Philippines had put in place a recovery package, which the Department of Finance in a separate report said amounted to a total of P2.57 trillion or 13.8 percent of gross domestic product.
The Duterte administration’s four-pillar socioeconomic strategy against COVID-19 as of Oct. 30 included P505.6 billion in emergency support for vulnerable groups; P53.2 billion in interventions marshalling resources to fight the coronavirus; P1.3 trillion in monetary actions to keep the economy afloat, as well as a P699.8-billion economic recovery program to create jobs and sustain growth.
Chua said stricter quarantine would not only be expensive for the government, which would have to give away dole-outs also to people who would have difficulty meeting their daily needs and other health problems.
The Neda chief urged providing sufficient yet safe public transport so more people c0uld resume their work and businesses.