Economy is struggling: NEDA

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    The country’s socioeconomic chief sees the Philippines returning to a positive growth path this year, even as he admits the economy is “struggling” after more than a year of quarantine restrictions due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

    Karl Kendrick Chua, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) acting secretary, said in a televised briefing with President Duterte Wednesday night the economy could grow by 6.5 percent this year.

    The NEDA chief sees a rebound in the economy’s performance from the 9.5 percent contraction posted in 2020, despite the recent spikes in new COVID-19 cases which saw a record high of 8,019 earlier this week.

    “Our projection is that the GDP (gross domestic product) growth rate will return to positive this year, to 6.5 percent,” Chua said in Filipino.

    “We should just continue our risk management (strategy), utilize funds properly so we can help out those who were affected by the pandemic, and quicky enforce our vaccination program,” he added.

    The 6.5 percent projection mentioned by Chua is still in line with the Development Budget Coordination Committee’s full-year estimate of 6.5 to 7.5 percent for 2021, announced during its meeting in December last year.

    Chua however told the President in his report that the economy is “struggling.”

    “Prior to the pandemic, our economy was strong. When we entered 2020 prior to COVID-19, we had a very strong economy. But we had a long quarantine or lockdown… we are struggling, Mr. President,” Chua said.

    Before the recent COVID-19 spikes, Chua has repeatedly pushed for an easing of quarantine restrictions, pointing out that the lockdown measures have left many unemployed and hungry.

    He said in the National Capital Region (NCR) and adjacent regions, every day of general community quarantine (GCQ) is equivalent to P700 million in wages, salaries and other income lost.

    “We need to continue managing risks as COVID-19 cases rise. My recommendation, that was accepted by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), is we focus on localized quarantine, and we address the highest sources of risk, so that jobs and income will continue,” Chua said.

    Due to the recent COVID-19 spikes, the IATF has decided to place Metro Manila and four adjacent provinces, or NCR Plus, under a two-week GCQ “bubble,” which limits movements within the bubble, and bars persons below 18 and above 65 from going outside of their homes.

    Chua remained firm against shifting to an even stricter level of quarantine over the two-week period, which would be the modified enhanced community quarantine, as he said this would result in additional 128,500 unemployed persons, thus leading to an income loss of P2.1 billion per day in the NCR and adjacent areas.

    In the same briefing, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the country is slowly recovering from the adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    In his report to President Duterte on Wednesday night, Lopez said that the country’s -16.5 percent Gross Domestic Product recorded during the second quarter of 2020, has slowly improved to -11.4 percent in the third quarter, and is was recorded at -8.3 percent during the fourth quarter.

    Lopez said another good sign of economic recovery is the unemployment rate from 17.7 percent in April, to 10 percent in July, and 8.7 percent in October, to 6.4 percent in January this year

    He said the manufacturing sector has also recorded improving figures.

    “The sign here is anything above 50 means that the manufacturing sector is growing. At the the height of the lockdown, the figures are at 31.6. So, it was low. But not, it’s at 52.5…That’s one sign the figure is increasing—that we are making gains in manufacturing. This is what creates our products,” Lopez said.

    He said even the exports industry is making a significant recovery on September and November of 2020.

    Lopez said it is not true that re-opening the economy was the factor in the sudden spike in COVID-19 cases.

    “We reopened the economy since July 2020 and yet COVID cases went down. Dati ho (Before, we are recording around) 4,000 (new cases) a day to below 2,000 (new cases) a day. Ibig sabihin, kahit nag-reopen tayo bumaba po ‘yong cases hanggang February. (So that means that even if we have re-opened the economy, COVID cases went down up to February)” he said.

    Based on a report by the World Health Organization, Lopez said COVID cases suddenly spiked due to the people’s “vaccination optimism” that even if they have been given the jabs, people became lax in observing minimum health protocols.

    He said another reason he sees in the spike of cases are the frequent non-essential physical meetings. – With Raymond Africa