Minimal disruption from Lent ECQ

    Stocking up. Long lines of shoppers wait outside a supermarket in Manila on March 28, 2021, a day before NCR goes on stricter lockdown. (Photo by :RHOY COBILLA)

    The imposition of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the National Capital Region (NCR) Plus bubble during the Holy Week, which starts today, should have minimal interference on business and work.

    But the announcement on Saturday sent Filipinos in panic mode to stock up on supplies and change plans for the long weekend.

    “We timed the imposition of ECQ during this Holy Week when work is suspended anyway on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, it’s an extended weekend. There will be minimal interference on work,” said presidential spokesman Harry Roque in a press conference on Saturday.

    Presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion, shared Roque’s observation, saying placing NCR again under ECQ during this Holy Week will give the already burdened healthcare system a welcome break.

    “It should be fine since economic activity goes down during Lenten season,” said Concepcion in a statement on Saturday night.

    NCR alone contributes a little over 30 percent, while Cavite and Laguna form part of Calabarzon which contributes nearly 15 percent of economic activity. Bulacan is part of Central Luzon on the other hand, which as a group contributes a little over a tenth of the economic activity.

    Stocks and peso trading will remain open albeit on a shortened trading week.

    Analysts said COVID-19 concerns will continue to drag investor sentiments.

    Philstocks Financial Corp. said the market may decline this week as “pandemic worries” dampen sentiment.

    “The rising pace in the increase of cases, the uncertainties on our vaccine procurement, and the possibilities of the implementation of more stringent restrictions are clouding our economic and corporate outlook. These in turn are expected to weigh on the market,” it said.

    Following reports of long queues in grocery stores over the weekend, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez urged the public not to resort to panic buying since public markets, groceries and convenience stores will be open.

    “Industries like agriculture and fisheries, which were allowed the first time we were at ECQ last year, will be allowed to operate—everything about food, manufacture of food, grocery products, basic essentials, all of these will be on continued production so we cannot run out of supplies,” Lopez said in an interview with dzbb.

    Lopez, however, said non-essential establishments like barbershops, salons, hardware stores, among others will be closed for the duration of the ECQ.

    He said restaurants can operate but only for take-out and deliveries. Outdoor dine-in is also not allowed.

    Malls will also be closed except for the groceries, pharmacies and hardware stores located within.

    Lopez said there will be no price freeze in these areas since the 60-day price ceiling imposed by the Department of Agriculture (DA) last February on pork and chicken products is still in effect.

    In a separate statement, DA Secretary William Dar said supply is enough and movement of food will be unhampered.

    “Early on, we have instructed our DA and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources regional directors to sustain the continuous transport and delivery of their respective surplus production of vegetables, fishery and livestock products and other basic food commodities to Metro Manila and major urban consumption centers,” said Dar.

    He added movement of farm and fishery products including seeds, fertilizers, inputs, feeds, veterinary drugs, biologics and other agri-fishery materials and equipment will be unhampered and properly coordinated with local government units through the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police.

    Dar said the DA will also dispatch Kadiwa on Wheels that will bring products to Kadiwa outlets and major public markets in Metro Manila, including those for cold storage at the Food Terminal Inc. facilities in Taguig.

    He said it may help if transporters will bring their food lane passes previously issued by the agency along with their required identification documents. But he clarified the passes are not required.

    “We went through this similar situation last year when we were put under ECQ, and we see no reason why cannot do the same or even perform better, next week and beyond,” Dar said.

    Those who have planned to take a Lenten staycation will, however, have to change plans as operations of staycation hotels are suspended during the ECQ period.

    The Department of Tourism said staycation hotels have allowed clients to rebook without penalties .

    Concepcion in a statement said placing NCR again under ECQ during this Holy Week will help mitigate the continuously rising active cases in the region topping all the regions with 301,519 total cases and 58,208 active cases, as of March 25, 2021.

    Given this, Concepcion highlighted that it has become even more vital for the vaccination program to be rolled out smoothly and as fast as possible.

    “A Dose of Hope,” which Concepcion leads has focused its donations from the first batch of vaccines to NCR to ensure that the infection level would be brought down at the center.

    The energy sector will remain functional and operational during ECQ.

    But the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) yesterday appealed to local government units (LGUs) to allow distribution utilities’ (DUs) meter readers to conduct onsite meter reading in the NCR Plus Bubble to avoid the electric DUs from resorting to estimated billings again which may cause undue burden to consumers.

    Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) meanwhile is suspending all disconnection activities in its franchise area until April 15, 2021 to ease the burden of customers while providing enough time to settle bills.

    Meralco assured it will continue vital operations such as meter readings and line crews to respond to any emergencies following the order of the ERC. – With Raymond Africa, Ruelle Castro and Jed Macapagal