By The Editors

Introduction

The threat of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) first came to the attention of the country’s health officials on December 31, 2019 as a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown origin in the city of Wuhan in China. The first human-to-human transmission was confirmed three weeks afterward. On January 30, 2020, the country had its first confirmed case of COVID-19.

On March 16, the government imposed an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) over the entire Luzon. The primary objective of the ECQ is to flatten the curve, corresponding to the daily trend of cumulative cases. Prior to the ECQ, the number of cases was doubling almost every three days. Other provinces and cities outside Luzon also started to impose a lockdown following these developments. As of April 14, two-and-a half months from the occurrence of the first case, the country has recorded 5,223 cases and 355 deaths. And indeed, the numbers would show that the curve has been flattening; the latest tally puts the doubling time at more than 7 days. Even as government prepares to lift the ECQ, there is the realization that things will never be the same again.

During the 17th Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases Meeting held on March 27, 2020 via online video conference, Resolution No. 16 was passed creating the IATF Technical Working Group (TWG) on Anticipatory and Forward Planning (AFP) to be chaired by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

The TWG is expected to provide recommendations on rebuilding confidence and adjusting to the “new normal.” Rebuilding confidence requires addressing the factors that led to the loss in confidence. Unfortunately, an effective treatment protocol and vaccine have yet to be found, at least, not until about a year.

This means that the main factor that resulted in the loss of confidence cannot be directly addressed and recommendations should then focus on the other factors.

What are the main objectives of the Inter-Agency Task Force Technical Working Group on Anticipatory and Forward Planning (IATF TWG-AFP)?

  1. To reduce uncertainty by making information available to answer some of the pressing questions of various stakeholders;
  2. To recommend programs and strategies to mitigate the losses experienced by consumers and businesses; and
  3. To recommend policies and programs to adapt to a “new normal” state of economic activities.

What are the three (3) phases of the government’s action against the COVID-19 threat?

  1. Response
  2. Mitigation
  3. Transition to the new normal

What is the main focus of the response phase?

The main focus of this phase is the implementation of medical and non-medical measures (ECQ, social distancing, travel ban) to limit transmission and provide health care to those who need them.

What is the main focus of the mitigation phase?

Strategies to be implemented during this phase aim to ensure food security, particularly of the poor and vulnerable, and reduce financial losses experienced to arrest a possible domino effect of adverse consequences.

What is the main focus of the transition to the new normal phase?

This phase is intended to find the set of conditions that will allow social and economic activities to proceed, while still observing rules to limit transmission of the virus.

Why is it important to provide the right information?

With the current state of health emergency necessitating efficient and appropriate medical response, it is important that people are given the right information to ease their feeling of uncertainty and build their confidence in the country’s health system.

To attain this goal, the public should be apprised of pertinent health, social, economic, public safety/security, and governance information. Information available should be geared towards COVID-19 response, mitigation, and transition to new normal.

What are the relevant information which should be provided to the public?

Information relating to survival ·         First aid measures and immediate response if symptoms arise

·         Financial aid to pay for medical expenses

·         Mass testing, Philippine testing facilities and capacity

Information relating to governance ·         Parameters to determine whether ECQ should be lifted

·         Website to access data on cases

·         Government assistance to sectors affected by the ECQ

·         Status of the 275 Billion Pesos allotted to address COVID-19

Information relating to post ECQ-state ·         Lifting of the ECQ

·         Plans of the government to contain the spread of the virus

·         Pandemic bill

·         Post quarantine rehabilitation plan

·         Plan for economic recovery

What are the recommended strategies to facilitate the efficient sharing of information?

  1. Official platform for all COVID-19 related matters
  2. Data sharing agreement across all government agencies that will provide data for the portal
  3. Inter-agency body that will manage the platform and ensure proper linkage to the respective agencies’ websites
  4. Create a standard template for all communications
  5. Set timelines for addressing data gaps
  6. Include a COVID-19 corner or create a portal for line agencies
  7. Ensure the availability of data from local government units
  8. Ensure the functionality of communication lines at all times
  9. Ensure effective dissemination and unified messaging of information, education, and communication (IEC) materials
  10. Set up a system to manage or receive reports on fake news

What are the recommendations to ensure that the public understands and retains the information made available to them?

  1. “Laymanize” the explanation contained in the FAQs;
  2. Make the portal interface simple, clear, and uncrowded;
  3. Use catchy phrases; and
  4. Employ strategic messaging.

What are the contents and features of the proposed platform on COVID-19?

COVID-19 situation updates ·         DOH bulletins, press releases, and directories

·         Number of cases, deaths, tests conducted, etc.

·         List of referral hospitals for COVID-19 and capacities of each hospitals

Volunteer Management System ·         Link to the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA) website

·         Opportunities to donate and volunteer

Health innovations ·         Online consultation

·         Information, update, or news article on the status of the development of vaccine

Social services ·         DSWD, DepEd, and CHED websites

·         Description of the eligibility and process of receiving government assistance

·         Information about the academic calendar adjustment

Trabaho at Negosyo sa Panahon ng COVID ·         DOLE, DTO, DOT, and DOA websites

·         Available employment opportunities

·         Transport initiatives

·         Description of the eligibility and process of receiving government assistance for affected employees and businesses

Laging Handa: Government in Action ·         Official guidelines on the implementation of the ECQ
Quarantine control points ·         DILG website

·         Guidelines on the quarantine and isolation measures relative to the COVID-19 situation

·         Information on the response of LGUs to COVID-19

What are the key impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and the ECQ?

A total of 1.19 million workers were affected by the COVID-19 as of April 12, 2020 most of whom are those working in the education, manufacturing, and hotel, restaurant and tourism-related sectors.

The ban on mass transportation also immobilized people which rendered temporary closures of establishments.

Different interpretations about the quarantine rules help up cargoes and hindered delivery services which in turn delayed the supply of basic necessities to people in Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon. The delay in cargo had a domino effect which affected manufacturing firms as well since raw materials became scarce due to delays in its delivery.

Essential supplies have also gone out of stock in retail establishments due to panic buying.

Tourism and travel businesses have also ground to a halt.

In addition, public and private school in all levels have been ordered closed.

Statistics of Experiences during the ECQ

What is the family income situation during the ECQ?

Based on 390,039 respondents (60.3% private, 39.7% government) 60% responded no change in their income; 36.7% responded having lower income; and only 3.8% said their income increased or are in a better situation.

What are families doing to address this?

40% of the respondents, most of whom coming from the private sector responded that their income is inadequate to support their basic needs during the ECQ because of lesser income due to cost-saving measures employed by their employers such as no-work no-pay schemes or reduced work hours.

Thus, majority of the respondents from both private and public sectors identified reduction in expenses by focusing only on basic needs for survival as their primary coping mechanism.

Are essential services accessible during the ECQ?

Access to essential services is a major hurdle during the ECQ. Most of the respondents had difficulty accessing groceries, wet markets, and even drug stores due to the following factors:

  • Abrupt closure of establishments;
  • Limited operating hours;
  • Lack of mass transportation

45% of families with senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and pregnant women experience challenges in accessing basic needs as some were not allowed to leave their houses and some LGUs did not provide them with quarantine passes.

This became a bigger challenge to the aforementioned individuals who are living on their own without companions who are allowed by the LGU to go out of their homes.

What is the income expectation in the next six (6) months after the ECQ?

Only 13.3% of respondents expect their income to increase in the next six months after the ECQ, while 39.8% expect their income to even decline. Thus, consumer sentiments are to stay tepid immediately after ECQ and majority of respondents reported that they will not but any durables any time soon.

What types of assistance are needed by consumers?

As suggested by the respondents, the most needed assistance is the seamless and uninterrupted supply chain and logistics, and a more efficient health system.

Other suggestions were for mass transportation and efficient banking and financial system.

Experiences of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises

Based on 44,097 enterprises – NCR (36%); CALABARZON (18.2%); Central Luzon (12.1%); Central Visayas (5.4%), Western Visayas (4.3%), and Davao (3.9%)

What is the situation of business operations during the ECQ?

65.5% of the respondents reported no change in their production inputs since the imposition of the ECQ while 25.9% and 8.7% reported higher and lower costs respectively.

The majority of businesses that reported no change in their inputs could be due to the implementation of price freeze on all agricultural and manufactured basic goods within 60 days from the declaration of the State of Calamity on March 16, 2020.

As to their sales position in March 2020 compared to February 2020, 65.5% reported zero sales due to temporary closures particularly in the non-essential businesses.

What are the work arrangements implemented during the ECQ?

60.1% of the firms surveyed stopped their operations; 13.2% reduced their work hours; 12.4% implemented a work from home scheme; 8.6% temporarily laid-off their employees; and 4.8% implemented a combination of the modified work arrangements.

What coping measures were adopted by firms to stay liquid during the ECQ?

22.8% of the firms relied on delaying tax and debt payments; 17.7% delayed payments to suppliers/providers; 12.5% accessed loans from government institutions among other things.

What are the projected sales if ECQ is prolonged?

Almost 80% of the respondents said that they would have zero sales if the ECQ would be extended for another month. But the business outlook for the next six months after the ECQ is somewhat favourable with around 68.7% expressing optimism.

What types of assistance are needed to stay afloat in case of ECQ extension?

As firms see obstacles in maintaining or restarting their business if the ECQ is prolonged, major concerns are:

  • Lack of working capital;
  • Tax, SSS, and other payments to the government;
  • Repayment of loans.

To address these, they suggested that there should be extension of deadline payments due to the government, and delay in the repayment of loans to banking and financial institutions. Other suggestions are as follows:

  • payment deferment to government (e.g. deferment of tax remittance such as withholding tax, VAT, SSS, PhilHealth);
  • payment deferment to debtors (e.g. banks, utility companies);
  • tax discounts or tax credits;
  • low interest loans from government;
  • lower interest loans from banks;
  • payroll subsidy for non-essential workers; and
  • price freeze for raw material / supplies

What were the emergency measure implemented during the ECQ?

Most of the recommended programs below, are to be implemented after the lifting of the ECQ to halt the persistence of losses and adverse impact experienced by different sectors. The programs are as follows:

For Social Protection

  • Re-operationalize the Supplemental Feeding Program in Day Care Centers through provision of nutritious food packs.
  • Increase the allowance under Private Education Student Financial Assistance
  • Address the new skills needed by industries to respond to the demands related to COVID 19.
  • Continue cash-for-work programs to provide temporary employment and income to severely affected workers due to COVID-19 even after the ECQ is lifted.
  • Implement measures to improve access of vulnerable individuals e. senior citizens, PWDs, and pregnant women, to protect them from COVID19 such as designating younger members of households to replenish supplies including medicines. For families without younger members, the following measures are suggested:

– Implementation of “Pabili System” to be implemented by the LGU’s Office of the Senior Citizen Affairs; and

– Implementation of special hours for the vulnerable where said individuals may be allowed to go out and purchase their needs to avoid exposures.

For Education

  • Request telecommunication companies to provide special reduced internet rates for students and faculty for the next six (6) months to one (1) year.
  • Provide loans and subsidies to students and faculty for acquisition of gadgets to be used for digital and alternative learning.
  • Increase the budget of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education.
  • Exclude government subsidies from the taxable income of educational institutions.

For Food Production and Supply Chain

  • Promote commodity diversification to increase supply of nutritious food.
  • Capacitate farmers/fisherfolk on processing and value addition of agricultural and fishery produce through implementation of capacity building programs such as TESDA trainings on agri-processing and packaging.
  • Link farmers to supply the government’s feeding programs and relief operations and facilitate the marketing and transportation of their produce from farms to the national and LGU feeding programs and relief operations.
  • Promote urban agriculture and community gardening.
  • Continue the strict enforcement of the government’s policy measures to ensure continuity of agriculture/food production and supply chain.
  • Conduct frequent monitoring of the price of food and other essential commodities by ensuring unrestricted movement of agricultural and fishery products by designating “foodlanes.”
  • Utilize the Supply Chain Regulatory Impact Assessments and Supply Chain Analysis Dashboard to monitor and address supply bottlenecks across the country.

For Access to Finance

  • Provide access to business financing and financial services by continuing to extend grants or soft loans to farmers, fisherfolk, and MSMEs to restore and sustain livelihood activities and businesses.
  • Continue to provide zero interest, no collateral, and longer-term credit programs for agriculture, forestry and fisheries based enterprises and farmers/fisherfolk.
  • Expand agricultural insurance to protect small farmers and fisherfolk from further loss of income and livelihood, especially during the third quarter of the year wherein natural disasters and calamities usually occur.
  • Encourage banks and non-bank financial institutions to grant their borrowers a temporary grace period for loan payments or to restructure the loan accounts of their borrowers.
  • Provide sufficient credit guarantees to support banks’ lending especially to SMEs.
  • Additional support programs for businesses and MSMEs, are needed, specifically: (a) payment deferment to government (e.g., deferment of tax remittance such as withholding tax, VAT, SSS, PhilHealth); (b) payment deferment to debtors (e.g., banks, utility companies); (c) tax discounts or tax credits; (d) low interest loans from government; and (e) lower interest loans from bank.
FNS

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