On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. A pandemic is an outbreak or wide spread of a disease that affects many countries and can lead to many deaths.
Community Quarantine Announced
We’d expected the government to announce control measures following the news of the first COVID-19 positive patients in the country. On March 12, the President placed Metro Manila under community quarantine from March 15-April 14.
My staff and I were in General Santos for a series of training when this happened. After we completed our training for 42 cooperatives in Mindanao, we returned to Metro Manila before the community quarantine took into effect.
Over next few days, the number of infected patients continued to rise. This necessitated more dire measures. On March 17, the entire Luzon was placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
Restriction of Movement
During ECQ, classes have been suspended at all levels. Government employees work from home as government offices operate with a skeletal workforce. In the private sector, flexible working hours are being implemented.
However, frontline workers who provide basic services continue to work full time. Aside from frontliners who provide medical services; man checkpoints; operate pharmacies, groceries, restaurants, and banks; and provide security and maintenance services; all citizens are advised to stay home.
In ECQ, only one person in every household is being allowed to go out to buy food, medicine, and other necessities. Everyone is being required to do social distancing. People are now advised to have at least a meter of space between each other in public spaces.
Public transportation has been suspended to slow down the spread of the virus. Travel by land, domestic air, and domestic sea are prohibited. However, there are still international flights catering to foreign tourists exiting the country and returning Overseas Filipino Workers.
Freighters, farmers, and other food production workers are not covered by travel restrictions. They are, however, required to undergo quarantine checkpoints.
Impact on the Economy
According to the Asian Development Bank, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the Philippines could decline further by 1.5% from the projected 6% GDP growth in 2020.
Demand for products and services have decreased due to ECQ. Although it’s still higher compared to the United States, which is expected to experience recession or negative growth.
The Philippine Stock Exchange Index hit 4,623 points on March 19 from its December 2019 ending level of 7,815 points. This indicates a decrease of 41% in just over three months. That’s less than half or 49% from its highest level of 9,078 points in January 2018.
Several of the Philippines’ trading partners such as China, Japan, and South Korea have been severely affected by COVID-19. This has had negative impact on our economy as import and export activities slowed down, along with a decline in tourism.
According to IBON Foundation, many workers will lose one month of income due to the prevalent no-work, no-pay policy in the private sector. It estimates that at least 18.9 million workers will be affected. Among these are sales personnel, construction workers, factory workers, drivers, hotel and restaurant workers, and business process outsourcing employees.
Impact on Microenterprises
According to the Department of Trade and Industry, about 9 out of 10 businesses in the Philippines are microenterprises or microbusinesses. That means there are nearly 900,000 microenterprises for every one million business establishments.
A business is considered a microenterprise if it has up to nine employees and an asset size not exceeding PhP3 million. Microenterprises provide employment to 2.6 million Filipino workers.
No business, small or large, is immune to the negative effects of COVID-19. But conditions are more challenging for microenterprises.
Last March 16-20, SEDPI conducted an assessment of its microfinance operations in Agusan del Sur and Surigao del Sur. The objective was to see the immediate effect of ECQ on its microenterprise members.
We asked our members if they had to stop their business (STOP), if their business weakened (WEAK), and if they or their family experienced symptoms of COVID-19 (CV). The table shows the results of our survey. Those who we haven’t spoken with in person or over the phone are marked not reached (NR).
Nine out of every 10 members of SEDPI are women. With families having to stay home, one in every five microenterprise members had to stop operating their business because of ECQ. Two out of every five have experienced a decline in their business. (About two out of every five members were unable to speak to us because they lived in a remote area with no cellphone signal.)
Many livelihoods have been affected due to the following:
- They are unable to buy supplies to keep their business going
- Traveling is difficult because there are barangays that don’t let non-residents enter; and other can’t go to work because the areas where they work are locked down
- There are few to no buyers of goods and services because schools and business operations are closed
- There are few to no transport vehicles because of the lack of passengers
- Delay in their spouse’s salaries
There’s a clear effect on the livelihood of microenterprises and many are already starting to experience temporary poverty. Hopefully, this will remain as temporary and they’ll recover once ECQ is lifted.
The good news in the community assessment was that none of the SEDPI members reported symptoms of COVID-19.
According to experts, the spread of COVID-19 is expected. However, what should be avoided is an increasingly large number of people getting sick at the same time. Our hospitals cannot cope with the influx of patients. Such a situation could cost many lives, could increase the cost of medical care, exhaust our frontliner resources, and cause more harm to the economy.
The ECQ is needed to slow down the spread of the virus to other provinces. Then the health care system will be able to cope with the number of patients.
As it stands, there’s an urgent need for decisive action in the form of ECQ measures to prevent the sudden rise of COVID-19 cases. But it’s important to take into account the well-being of most low-income groups. It’s imperative to provide them enough support before and during ECQ.
The sudden implementation of ECQ is difficult for microenterprises. Many of them earn only enough to meet their daily needs and are living a hand-to-mouth existence. Most of the workers in the Philippines are under the no-work, no-pay arrangement. Few employers will pay for a month of forced leave.
On social media, debates rage about stricter implementation of ECQ’s travel restrictions. Those out on the streets because they need to get to work are those for whom Wi-Fi access isn’t always available. It isn’t easy to air out their grievances.
The government has existing programs and funding to provide relief to Filipinos. It’s our hope that these quickly reach our microenterprises and those in the informal sector. They are the ones whose most basic needs may not be met because of the immediate effect on their livelihood.
Channeling resources to help these communities will keep our nation strong enough to recover faster from the negative effects of this pandemic.
This article originally appeared on VinceRapisura.com and translated by Maris Mortel-Hiruntrakul
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