Saturday, September 25, 2021

Nalzaro: Balancing act between health and economy


Unless revoked or modified by the national Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) due to appeals by our local government units (LGU), we have to brace ourselves for the next 15 days for the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), the second most stringent community quarantine level. The statement of Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque that LGUs can appeal the IATF to reconsider its decision is a sort of “consuelo de bobo” (stupid consolation). I am sure that the IATF will never reconsider its decision because its recommendation has already been approved by Malacañang.

After initially saying that Cebu City will not appeal to the IATF, Acting Mayor Michael Rama made an appeal through the regional IATF for the city to continue being under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), a more relaxed quarantine status. The city and the province had been under MGCQ status since September.

This is not to douse Rama’s desire with cold water, but don’t expect the IATF to reconsider its decision. The cities of Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu made earlier appeals, but did the IATF reconsider? No. Not even a courtesy of sending a formal answer rejecting their appeals.

What we should do now is to accept and face the situation. As what I have said in my previous column, this is a bitter pill we have to swallow. It’s better to swallow this bitter pill than to say sorry later. The increase in Covid-19 cases in our locality is our own doing. We tend to be complacent, thinking that the virus has little by little been eradicated. Most of us are also hard-headed. We defied and ignored health protocols. So this is the result now.

What our leaders should do is to do a balancing act by protecting our public health and at the same time keep our economy growing. This has been the conflict since the pandemic emerged. By imposing stricter health protocols to protect the public health, the economy is also being affected. So our leaders should do a balancing act.

What do I mean “by doing balancing act?” Our leaders should see to it that in the process of implementing stricter rules to protect public health, these should not greatly affect our economy. No establishments will close shop and workers will not be affected by layoffs and retrenchments. Those earning a living like those sidewalk vendors and those in the public transportation sector can still continue their means of living.

Health is very critical to the prosperity of any society. The absence of health care affects the overall well-being of an individual and limit movement. In the workplace, poor health slows down individual performance levels, firms or organizational productivity and ultimately income. This is what Covid-19 had caused and is affecting our economy. This disease has locked down economies and created wide-ranging socio-economic disruptions in different countries across the world.

Most of those affected are small-scale businesses and even some of the big ones have collapsed. How many private schools have been closed because some of the private school students have transferred to public schools because their parents can no longer support their high educational needs because they lost their jobs? If you have noticed some concessionaires in shopping malls, especially restaurants, they have not re-opened their businesses yet because of the previous lockdown. Now, we are again in the same situation. I agree with those in the business sector that this semi-lockdown is a blow to our local economy.

Unfortunately, the government, both national and local governments, can no longer provide the basic needs of those affected sector through its Social Amelioration Program (SAP) or any form of “ayuda” like before. Most of the LGUs have ran out of budget for this. Maybe, the government can adopt several economic palliative measures to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on households.

For instance, the government can ask financial institutions, banks, lending firms and cooperatives to lower their interest rates or skip collection for a couple of months. Ask public utilities like electric, water and communication companies to give their clients and customers temporary “relief” in their payments by suspending the collections of their monthly dues and bills on time. We did that before, so we can still do it now that we are under this strict quarantine status. We can do it together.


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