Economists propose 'modified' quarantine after April 30 to restart local economy

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 8) - With the government's move to extend the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine until April 30, economists are saying a more relaxed approach may be explored in the months after to resume economic activity.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia earlier raised the idea in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that has stunted economic activity nationwide.

Pernia told CNN Philippines on Wednesday that a modified community quarantine would allow some manufacturing and service industries to resume operations.

"Export industries, export firms, firms that are exporting products are exempted, agricultural work and agricultural production is exempted, and several other manufacturing enterprises like BPOs is exempted," Pernia said in an interview on CNN Philippines

"Those working in special economic zones like the PEZA, they are also exempted," he added.

However, Pernia made it clear that the government would not be able to hit its previous 7 to 8 percent growth target amid the public health crisis.

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Economists agreed that a modified community quarantine may be a viable alternative to the enhanced community quarantine after April 30.

BDO chief market strategist Jonathan Ravelas said a modified quarantine would allow the local economy to slowly restart.

"However, government should prioritize health, social protection and economic viability, in that order," he told CNN Philippines.

Ravelas also stressed the need to implement mass testing, saying premature modifications could create another wave of infections.

"We don't want this virus to remain at large till the rainy season as it could get worse," he said.

"I prefer that we do the modification in May," he added.

But Union Bank of the Philippines chief economist Carlo Asuncion said this would need to be implemented properly.

"A modified community quarantine entails an effective testing, tracing and quarantine strategy to help the goal of virus containment," Asuncion told CNN Philippines.

Asuncion cited a recent study by the University of the Philippines that showed a shift to a modified community quarantine would still yield a peak, but one that is lower than if there were no interventions.

"However, if communicated well and effectively, the rise should not come to a point where our health care systems will be overrun and overwhelmed," Asuncion said.

He clarified that a more relaxed approach would only work if every individual takes responsibility of their personal health and safety.

"Wearing masks in public, physical distancing, personal hygiene should continually be communicated through efficient channels," Asuncion said.

"It should be clear that we cannot return to the 'usual way of life' until an effective anti-viral drug is readily available and that a working vaccine be available globally," he added.