NEDA sees grim scenario under MECQ

    A “full capacity” signboard is displayed at the entrance of a Makati hospital on March 23, 2021 as the COVID cases continue to rise. (Photo by RHOY COBILLA).

    More Filipinos would end up jobless and hungry if government shifts to the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) amid the spike in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases. according to the country’s socioeconomic planning secretary.

    Karl Kendrick Chua, acting National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) secretary, said in a televised briefing yesterday that an additional 128,500 people would be unemployed had the quarantine level been shifted to MECQ from a general community quarantine (GCQ).

    According to the cost-benefit analysis presented by Chua on two weeks of MECQ or its equivalent, there would also be an income loss of P2.1 billion per day in the National Capital Region (NCR) and adjacent areas.

    Thus, the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) placed Metro Manila and four adjacent provinces, or NCR Plus, under a GCQ “bubble,” which limits movements within the bubble, and bars persons below 18 and above 65 from going outside of their homes.

    Chua said a careful and calibrated approach is needed to care for both COVID-19 cases and the far majority facing hunger and other diseases.

    In his analysis, Chua said shifting to the stricter MECQ will prevent up to 266,194 new COVID-19 cases, up to 4,738 COVID-19 deaths and 11,626 severe or critical cases.

    However, placing NCR and the nearby regions under MECQ will not only result to more jobless individuals and significant income losses, but will also translate to 58,000 more in hunger.

    Non-COVID-19 deaths under a two-week MECQ is also estimated at 78,599, while foregone treatment for high-burden diseases is projected at 75,000.

    “We recognize the risks associated with the recent spike in COVID-19 cases but reverting back to a stricter and blanket community quarantine is no longer an option knowing how much it has cost the Filipino people in the past year,” Chua earlier said.

    Chua was asked if NEDA has also come up with estimates regarding the impact of the GCQ bubble, however he has yet to respond as of press time.
    Loans for vaccines

    The government is eyeing to vaccinate about 70 million adult Filipinos against COVID-19.

    The remaining 40 million are aged 18 years and below cannot be vaccinated yet.

    In a separate statement, Carlos Dominguez, Department of Finance secretary, has reiterated that on top of the existing funds under the 2021 national budget and the Bayanihan To Recover As One Act (Bayanihan 2), the government has secured loan agreements with the three multilateral institutions worth a combined $1.2 billion (or about P58.4 billion) to ensure sufficient resources to procure COVID-19 vaccines for 100 percent of the country’s adult population.

    Dominguez informed President Duterte that even when these funds have been secured by the government for its mass vaccination plan, the money can only be drawn when the concerned pharmaceutical companies are ready to deliver their vaccines to the Philippines.

    Under the 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA), Dominguez said the Department of Health will get P2.5 billion for vaccine procurement, on top of the P10 billion allocated for COVID-19 vaccine financing under Bayanihan 2.

    Unprogrammed funds of P70 billion under the 2021 GAA complete the budget for vaccine procurement of P82.5 billion. Of this P70 billion, P58.4 billion will come from loans recently approved by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

    The balance of P11.6 billion will be sourced from savings and other arrangements with the Philippines’ bilateral or multilateral partners through official development assistance financing.

    This brings the total financing for the COVID-19 vaccination program (vaccine doses, logistics and other supplies, including waste disposal facilities) to P82.5 billion, Dominguez said.

    “That money—P82.5 billion plus the private sector and another P10 billion from the LGUs (local government units) will be enough for us to vaccinate all the adults in the Philippines this year,” Dominguez said during a televised meeting Monday night with President Duterte and select Cabinet officials.

    Not in gov’t hands

    The finance secretary has also made it clear that the funds covered by loans from multilateral institutions are not in the hands of the government. The loan accords with the ADB and the World Bank have already been signed this month, while the agreement with AIIB has yet to be scheduled for signing.

    Moreover, under the terms of the loan agreement, the multilateral institutions, such as the ADB, would directly pay the suppliers of the vaccines and such purchases would have to pass the ADB’s stringent criteria.

    Hence, these funds for our vaccine purchases will not be coursed through the Philippine government, he said.