CONCERNS about the availability of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) testing kits for their employees and the effects of the prolonged quarantine period were raised by Cebu City's business leaders during a meeting with Mayor Edgardo Labella on Thursday, May 21, 2020.
They discussed scenarios should the City lift the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) after May 31.
Present in the consultation were officials from the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI); the Philippine Retailers Association Cebu Chapter; the University of San Carlos School of Business; the Hotel, Resort and Restaurant Association of Cebu Inc.; and the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountant.
"We talked about protocol that would allow businesses in different industries to continue operations and we listened to their side so that we can come up with guidelines through our executive order so the economy can get back on its feet,” the mayor said in a mix of Cebuano and English.
CCCI president Felix Taguiam told Labella during the meeting that the prolonged ECQ has hurt some businesses.
Taguiam said it was necessary to reopen Cebu City to inter-island business, especially its trade with Metro Manila.
"It is really hard. I think exactly today, two months na that our employees are really suffering. Some are angry because they need to feed their family also. The business sector also needs to reboot because businessmen are bleeding. We need to restart,” he said in a mix of Cebuano and English.
Opening Cebu City
"Manila is open, Cebu is closed. Manila is trying to bring goods already, Cebu is a trading hub but how do you expect the goods to enter when we are still closed. We have to open up. Other cities in the country are opening already. Cebu as the trading center of the Philippines is the main driver. Without Cebu, everybody is suffering,” he added.
As long as Cebu City remains closed, other businesses in the province will have a hard time operating as the main business hub in the island is the city, Taguiam said.
However, businesses in Cebu City prefer a gradual opening of the economy to give them time to prepare their workplaces for the new normal.
Taguiam said their top concern was the disruption of trading.
"Because of Covid-19, the flow of goods was disrupted, manpower, tourism, exports. Everything. No aspect of life was left untouched by the pandemic and everybody was affected," he said.
Taguiam likened the ECQ to a vacation.
"Before, during a vacation, we use our savings. Now, on this vacation, we don't have anything to spend anymore," he said.
He said business owners are angry and hungry for their operations to resume.
“We cannot keep on sustaining for life,” he said.
Taguiam said they also worry about low consumer spending and confidence.
The mayor, for his part, agreed that businesses should prepare to resume operations.
Meanwhile, business leaders in the city said they would rather test their employees for Covid-19 before allowing them to return to work, but they are worried about the cost.
In a separate interview, Rey Calooy, president of the Filipino-Cebuano Business Club, said the government should shoulder the cost of testing employees of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
"It's not encouraging anymore for business to shoulder such cost. We are not against the rapid testing but it must be shouldered by the government," he said.
Calooy said rapid testing is not just the sole problem of MSMEs in terms of operational costs.
City Administrator Floro Casas Jr. agreed.
“They are in favor of testing but there are some considerations like cost given that most businesses stopped operating for a month,” he said.
The Department of Health previously announced that workers were not required to get tested for Covid-19 before returning to work.
Casas said the mayor will use Thursday’s consultation as one of the bases for the policy the City will draft if it downgrades the ECQ status at the end of the month.
He said work arrangements like the work-from-home scheme and the 50 percent onsite and other quarantine protocol like social distancing in the workplace were also discussed.
Only Cebu City and Mandaue City, a manufacturing hub in Cebu Island, are still on ECQ. The rest of the country has transitioned to modified community quarantine or general community quarantine. (JJL, JOB, PAC)