A pragmatic option

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    I AM sharing my space today with a good friend, Kaycee Crisostomo, who has taken pains to study the COVID-19 situation in Metro Manila in order to propose a way forward that balances the financial and health needs of the people. Kaycee is a colleague in the mining industry; a keen observer of political, economic and social issues, he is a patriot at heart whose only but major objection to the ECQ was the liquor ban!

    Here is his piece:

    “The Philippine Government has identified the National Capital Region as one of the regions severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and thus, is placed, in its entirety, under the extended Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) effective until 15 May 2020.  On the other hand, other specified areas are placed under General Community Quarantine (GCQ) wherein companies engaged in key industries, i.e. agriculture, forestry, food production, supply chain, manufacturing for export, construction, e-commerce and repair and maintenance services, may be allowed to operate and conduct business but on a limited capacity.

    “Many sectors from NCR have expressed concern that the imposition of the extended ECQ on all cities therein will take its toll on the already restless underprivileged sector. Furthermore, its negative impact on the country’s economic base, not to mention food security, is inevitable.

    “It is imperative that the Government recognize that maintaining the critical balance between addressing the pandemic and keeping a strong economic base with a continued source of essential goods calls for a selective geographic approach in determining cities to be placed either on ECQ or GCQ.  Needless to say, an NCR-wide ECQ might not be the prudent course of action given the figures above. Rather, more realistic and sustainable measures should be put in place.

    “As of 01 May 2020, northern cities like Caloocan City only has 12 cases for every 100,000 people (“Attack Rate” or “AR”) despite having the third highest population in Metro Manila.  Valenzuela and Navotas have 12.  In the middle of the northern cluster is Malabon with the lowest AR in Metro Manila at 11. Clearly, these cities should not be included in the same group of cities with case rates that are up to almost 16 times higher.

    “Moving southward, cities like Las Piñas, Taguig and Muntinlupa evidently also show lower case statistics with AR ranging from 28 to 29.  Marikina in the east has an AR of 26. Las Piñas and Muntinlupa are gateways to Southern Luzon and Marikina is gateway to the east.

    “In terms of Case Fatality Rates (CFR), it is noteworthy that cities located in the south record some of the lowest CFR in NCR, i.e. Taguig, Las Piñas, and Muntinlupa with 5%, 6% and 8%, respectively. These figures are only a fraction of that for northern cities with a high of 16%. Further, these cities also have low-medium AR. This just means that together with the relatively lower AR, the COVID-19 survival rates here are some of the best in NCR. In fact, Taguig and Las Piñas have the best showing in containing the virus having the lowest CFR vis-à-vis a comparatively lower AR than the rest of NCR. Other cities with low CFRs include Valenzuela, Makati and Pasay.

    “Data show that cities located in the central part of NCR experience the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases like San Juan, which has the highest AR in Metro Manila at 176, Mandaluyong with 92, Makati with 67 and Parañaque with 59. The following cities have rather lower ARs than the four mentioned: Quezon City with 39, Pasig with 36, Pasay with 41, Pateros with 31 and Manila with 34.

    “Despite fairly lower ARs among these nine (9) central cities, Quezon City and Manila, with 1,242 and 657 infections, respectively, have the highest number of confirmed cases in NCR.  These central cities with the highest number of COVID- 19 cases comprise over 60% of the total confirmed cases in NCR or 3,839 in absolute terms, according to the 01 May 2020 DOH COVID-19 Tracker.

    “One of the factors that may have contributed to such numbers is unhampered mobility due to the geographic locations of these cities.  Major business hubs like the Makati CBD and Ortigas Center, which are located at the joint boundaries of Pasig, Mandaluyong and Quezon City, rely on the free ingress and egress of employees from other Metro Manila cities working in companies located therein.

    “Owing to its population, land mass and number of cases, Quezon City also experienced the highest number of deaths (97) among Metro Manila cities and likewise has the highest number of hospital admissions.

    “However, given the statistics above, NCR should not be allowed to be on a standstill. It should be considered that “off-center” cities can and should play the role in jumpstarting the economy.  Note that it is in the “off-center” cities where major critical enterprises and manufacturing facilities are located. In addition, these “off-center” cities have access to major highways and provincial markets. As cases in point, Navotas and Malabon are the fishing capital of NCR which is vital to sustain food supply in NCR and major parts of Luzon; Valenzuela is a manufacturing hub; and Caloocan is the gateway to the north and home to businesses and warehouses.

    “A different set of considerations like the ability to safely produce and mobilize essential goods and services for these cities should also be studied and examined in the relaxation of quarantine or possible gradual lifting in the days and weeks to come. As 70% of Philippine GDP comes from NCR, Calabarzon and Central Luzon, the country risks losing 70% of the GDP if a partial lockdown is not implemented in these areas.

    “A second look on the coverage of the extended ECQ is necessary and vital.  It has to be further evaluated based on each city’s management of the pandemic. The quarantine in some cities will simply need to be lifted ahead of the others to avert irreversible adverse effects on the national supply chain, specifically, and the economy in general.”

     

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