Expert warns of Covid case spike if economy reopens sans vaccination drive

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Even with the reopening of more business establishments and economic activities, people still do not have the confidence to go out and spend without the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) vaccine rollout, a member of the OCTA Research Group said Thursday.

In a television interview, OCTA Research Group fellow Prof. Guido David said the best way to achieve balancing health and the economy is through the rollout of the Covid-19 immunization program as quickly as possible.

“We will have a lot more confidence once the vaccine rollout starts to happen and is working. Even if we open the economy, consumers will still be reluctant to go out and enjoy the travel because of the threat of the virus,” David said.

He said health professionals do not oppose the safe and gradual reopening of the economy, but they remind the public of serious threats with the coronavirus UK variant if the government will “relax everything too quickly.”

The National Economic and Development Authority recently proposed to President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire country under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).

But David said moving to MGCQ, particularly for Metro Manila, may lose the government’s capability to be more effective in its “hammer and dance strategy” against Covid-19.

“For example, there’s a spike in cases we can recalibrate and adjust back, and we have that capability precisely because we’re still under GCQ,” he said. “If we move to MGCQ, we may lose that capability to be more effective in the hammer and dance approach because we are opening up everything too quickly. And if the surge happens, will we be able to handle it? And that is an important question to ask.”

The OCTA Research fellow warned the public of the possibility of replicating the holiday surge in Metro Cebu if Metro Manila will be placed in more lenient community quarantine measure.

Of the three major metro areas in the country, David said Metro Cebu recorded a surge during Christmas holidays, while there were no were no spike in Covid-19 cases in Metro Manila and Metro Davao during the said period.

He added that during that time, Metro Manila and Metro Davao were under GCQ while Metro Cebu was under MGCQ.

“Cebu City had less than 10 cases per day back in December; then after holiday, more than 200 cases per day. So the potential is there. And with the stimulation, if a surge similar to what happened in Cebu happens in Metro Manila, then from 400 cases we will have 2,400 cases per day in a matter of 36 days if we go with the same rate of infection in Cebu City,” he explained.

He added that the risk is greater in Metro Manila due to the density of the National Capital Region.

David said there will be the risk of going back to a stricter lockdown if the surge happens, which is costlier to the economy.

Option for consumers, income for workers

In the same interview, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez has agreed that the reopening of more business establishments does not automatically translate to consumer confidence.

However, Lopez said allowing more economic activities will give consumers the option to spend and will provide income for workers compared to keeping certain sectors closed.

For instance, cinema workers will still get paid with the reopening of movie houses even if there are no moviegoers, he added.

The DTI chief said of the 548 cinemas in MGCQ areas, only 148 are operating.

“Their capacity utilization is at 1 percent. But at least they are open and there are workers getting paid, even the business operates at a loss,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.

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