The Duterte administration’s enhanced community quarantines (ECQ) and modified ECQs (MECQ) for over a month-and-a-half now are insufficient to contain the pandemic, research group IBON said, without the necessary public health measures. They also unduly burden poor and low-income families and delay recovery in the absence of economic aid and real stimulus measures. The government is crudely resorting to repeated harsh quarantines while waiting for its long-drawn-out vaccination program to be completed, said IBON.
The Greater Manila area was placed under ECQ on March 29. This shifted to MECQ but this was extended not only in the National Capital Region (NCR), Cavite, Laguna, Batangas and Rizal, but also in Santiago City, and the provinces of Quirino and Abra. Malacañang cited above-high-risk-threshold healthcare utilization and average daily attack rates in the NCR for the extension.
The extended quarantine may have helped to momentarily curb the spread of the coronavirus but the country’s health and its economy continue to worsen without more aggressive government intervention, IBON said. This means boosting public testing, contact tracing, quarantining, isolation and treatment capacity, said the group, alongside much more substantial subsidies for households, small businesses, and rural producers.
The Department of Health (DOH) said that the rise in COVID-19 cases has begun to slow but the NCR average daily attack rate of 25 cases for every 100,000 individuals is considered very high risk and can still overwhelm the health system. Cases are at 1.07 million and counting, with 66,060 active cases and 17,622 deaths.
Testing is still low at 50,000-60,000 tests daily since mid-march. This is higher than the 50,000 government target set long ago last year but, with the daily positivity rate still very high at 15.1%, testing is still far below the required 120,000-150,000 today. Contact tracing is very poor at just 1:4, or only four contacts traced per confirmed COVID-19 case. This is lower than the government’s target of 1:15 and far below the 1:30 standard in rural areas and 1:37 in urban areas. Only 309,385 Filipinos have been fully inoculated out of the 70 million Filipinos targeted for vaccination by yearend. These clearly show that the government needs to invest more to improve the country’s health infrastructure and its capacity to contain the coronavirus.
The government should also expand and expedite cash assistance for low-income households whether the MECQ is prolonged or lifted on May 15, IBON said. The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) reported that 75% of the target or over 8 million beneficiaries have been given emergency aid in the NCR. Distribution is still being accounted for in other areas. But IBON noted that aside from its limited coverage, the Php1,000 allocated per individual or maximum Php4,000 per family is scanty even in comparison to the government’s own official poverty threshold of just Php10,756 per month for a family of five.
Millions of affected low-income households need much more than this stingy aid especially considering that the harsher Greater Manila community quarantines have been going on for six weeks now, said IBON. The subsidy given over the past year of pandemic lockdowns has been so small, the group underscored, that at least Php10,000 should be given to poor and 18 million low-income households for at least three months.
This is part of the expansionary fiscal policy proposed by IBON amounting to Php1.5-trillion that also includes wage relief, agricultural support, financial assistance for small businesses, health response, and a distance education fund.
IBON stressed that the Duterte government cannot claim to not have any money for cash assistance. The group pointed out that there are some Php5.9 trillion in revenues and borrowings projected for this year. Portions of the Php2.8 trillion for debt service, infrastructure, and other unproductive or lesser priority spending can be realigned from the 2021 budget. This is aside from as much as Php178.5 billion in unspent Bayanihan 1 and 2 funds. The government can also raise Php697 billion from wealth and higher income taxes on the super-rich, and at least Php145.9 billion from reversing its regressive tax reform measures.
The MECQ limiting mobility and economic activity to slow the spread of COVID-19 will be futile, IBON said, if it is not coupled with sufficient health and economic measures so that citizens can return to work safely, have more purchasing power, and spur economic activity.