Business

Despite Delta threat, biz group says new lockdown 'not needed' at this time

Despite Delta threat, biz group says new lockdown 'not needed' at this time

MANILA, Philippines — A “knee-jerk” imposition of fresh restrictions in Metro Manila and nearby areas would be extremely damaging to the economy, the country’s largest business group said, as it denies endorsing renewed lockdowns to curb the spread of the Delta variant.

In a Thursday morning statement, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) said it is not batting for a new round of lockdown, even a two-week shutdown at best. PCCI was clarifying remarks made by one of its officials, who the group said was “misquoted”.

PCCI Acting President Edgardo Lacson said the official “was explaining that we need to wait and see if the health care sector can cope with the recent surge of cases and not be overwhelmed if the rise in cases continue.” Lacson added that a return to strict lockdowns would be “disastrous” to the economy.

“Such a decision will cause the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs again, not to mention business losses of enterprises, which our citizens can ill afford,” he said.

“Even medical doctors are divided on the Delta variant that although it is highly contagious, it is not fatal,” he added.

Health experts, such as OCTA research group, publicly expressed concern that the Delta variant is causing a surge in cases, especially in the National Capital Region. In the capital, the coronavirus’ reproduction rate, a measure of how fast the virus spreads, is now at 1.33, indicating a sustained transmission.

The risk is that another deadly surge of cases would overwhelm the country’s decrepit healthcare system again, with India, where hospitals were stretched to the limit when the Delta variant first emerged there, serving as a cautionary tale for the Philippines. In other countries, the highly contagious coronavirus variant is spreading among unvaccinated people, putting the Philippines in a vulnerable situation amid a slow immunization program.

That said, the OCTA proposed a two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown in the capital and nearby urban areas to avert a sharp spike in cases. Commenting on the proposal, PCCI president emeritus George Barcelon told a press conference on Wednesday that in the event the government decides to impose new restrictions, “it’s important that a preparation period be allowed for business sectors.”

"You can have a severe lockdown but then again, we should be cognizant that the transport of essentials is important,” Barcelon said.

Barcelon’s concerns are valid. Since the pandemic hit home, the Philippines has been struggling to keep the virus spread in check while leaving most of the economy functioning, a problem that demands a long-term fix or risks putting more lives in danger. 

From late March to mid-April, Metro Manila and four nearby areas were put in a bubble to curb a renewed surge in infections at the time, although the restrictions at the time were not as tight as last year. Still, that action kept the economy in recession in the first quarter and wiped out gains in restoring jobs crushed by the pandemic.

For Lacson, the economy can no longer afford another lockdown. “The virus will be with us for months, maybe years, and we have no choice but to live with it. This is how other countries have fought the virus. Lockdowns will cause even greater hardships for our people,” he said.