Limited public transport holds back PH economy from full recovery – Galvez

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 8) — The Duterte Cabinet will prioritize how to raise public transportation capacity as well as the opening of labor-heavy industries as they begin discussing strategies on Oct. 12.

Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the National COVID-19 Task Force, said the revival of the Philippine economy is stunted by the lack of sufficient public transportation.

"They (Metro Manila mayors) are opening up the economy little by little at a controlled manner," Galvez said in a press briefing. "Actually, ang GCQ sa Metro Manila, maikukumpara natin ito na ito'y mahigpit na MGCQ considering that marami na tayong nai-open sa ekonomiya."

"Ang sino-solve natin ngayon ay ang pag-increase ng public transport because ito ang limiting factor natin," he stressed.

[Translation: Actually, the GCQ in Metro Manila can be considered as a strict MGCQ since we have opened a lot of industries in the local economy. What we're solving now is the need for increased public transport because that is our limiting factor.]

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said that during an earlier meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, the one-meter distancing rule in public utility vehicles was raised.

RELATED: Transport distancing can be eased if PH sees lower COVID-19 case average, DILG chief says

He said Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua also pointed out that only about 50 percent of the national economy is open as restrictions hamper activity in Metro Manila, the country's commercial hub.

Galvez added that Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez has been tasked to identify sectors which can be further opened or revived. Focus is given to businesses which are high-yielding and labor-intensive to pad state revenues and generate jobs as millions have been laid off, he said.

The chief implementer also said it is costly to sustain tight movement restrictions, as every week of community quarantine in Metro Manila meant shaving off between 0.10 to 0.28 percentage points from the potential growth rate of the country's gross domestic product.

This translates to ₱63.4 billion in lost sales or ₱19.5 billion missed value-adding output.

READ: Economic team tells IATF to reopen more industries as vaccine not expected until mid-2021

As an example, Galvez said local authorities chose to lockdown a construction site within Bonifacio Global City in Taguig after more than 300 workers tested positive for COVID-19. The decision was made rather than lose millions of pesos if the entire business district is declared off limits for two weeks.

The economy shrunk by 9 percent as of June compared to a year ago.

Lockdowns began mid-March and were relaxed in June, but again reverted to stay-at-home rules mid-August to combat rising infections. The National Capital Region has been under general community quarantine since, although more establishments like gyms, restaurants, and malls are allowed to accept more customers.

READ: Roque on Boracay opening: 'Panahon na para magbakasyon'

Galvez said the task force is now focusing on a massive information drive to teach Filipinos how to take care of themselves and rebuild confidence for them to head out of their homes to shop, dine, and even travel despite the COVID-19 threat.

"Once na naging aware ang ating mga tao [once people are aware], they can go out now with confidence that they will not be infected by the virus..." he said. "Ang spike ng virus is not because we opened the economy, but the (lack of) consciousness of the people."

He added, "We assure the public that there will be no more tradeoffs. Phase 3 will be our transition plan to the 'new normal' from the last quarter of this year down the road towards the first quarter of 2021."

The government has required the wearing of face masks and face shields when outside the home, as well as social distancing and frequent hand washing to contain the spread of infections.

The economic team expects a full-year GDP contraction of 5.5 percent, but global banks and multilateral lenders see a downturn closer to 10 percent as the local outbreak remains uncontained.l.