Business leaders reject fresh Delta variant lockdowns, except for the unvaccinated

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 27) — Business groups rejected a possible return to wide lockdowns should local infections surge due to the more contagious COVID-19 Delta variant.

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion floated a counter proposal to President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat that the country may return to strict movement restrictions “just like what happened in the early days.” 

“Automatically, a lockdown is the way forward but you are also costing the economy. As you lock down, the economy takes the pain,” Concepcion told CNN Philippines on Tuesday. “What is the least pain? Don’t lock down the entire economy, lock down the unvaccinated people.”

“People have to sacrifice. In the end, the unvaccinated cannot get sick because they will add on to our health system,” he added.

READ: Delta is dangerous and spreading – but vaccination can stop it

Concepcion said he brought up the idea with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III last week. He said the rule may be imposed in the last three months of the year when more vaccines arrive. This would target those who refuse to receive the shots despite their availability.

The policy will be put to the test in Lapu-Lapu City in Cebu. Mayor Junard Chan announced that unvaccinated residents will not be allowed to enter malls and supermarkets by August 25 to bring down local infections.

“The weakest link is actually the unvaccinated… If we don’t solve the health issue, we will never solve the economic problem. It’s plain and simple,” Concepcion added.

Earlier, the GoNegosyo founder also pushed for separate areas for the vaccinated and unvaccinated in offices, restaurants, and other establishments.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, however, said this might not be the right time for such policy. He told CNN Philippines' The Final Word that many Filipinos still want to get their vaccine shots, but it takes time to do so.

"Right now, marami pang gustong magpa-vaccine pero hindi pa lahat (nabibigyan ng bakuna). It requires time, pumipila pa sila," he said, adding that the best time to implement such approach is when fewer Filipinos will want to be immunized when there is so much vaccine supply.

[Translation: Right now, many still want to get vaccinated but not all are given their shots. It requires time, they're still lining up.]

Meanwhile, Ebb Hinchcliffe, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes the local Delta variant situation “does not worsen" as the economy “cannot endure another NCR-wide lockdown.”

RELATED: Duterte mulls closing PH borders amid COVID-19 Delta variant threat

Pandemic concerns

Business groups said separately that they are closely watching the local COVID-19 situation.

“The key then is the vaccination, maybe that could have been done clearer,” British Chamber of Commerce Philippines executive director Chris Nelson said in an interview, reacting to Duterte’s Monday State of the Nation Address.

READ: 5.5M Filipinos now fully vaccinated against COVID-19

He added that the pace of vaccination in countries has become a major factor for investors in deciding where to put their money: “Companies that do business are looking at the management of the pandemic, how it moves forward. You can see that in the reactions in the financial markets across the world.”

Other business leaders also stressed the importance of flattening the curve for continuous economic recovery, rather than just spurts of profit and loss.

READ: DTI against tighter restrictions amid Delta variant threat

Investor woes

The ease of doing business in the Philippines remained a source of concern.

“We fervently hope that the President will make use of his remaining days in office to prove that rule of law prevails in the country as this is equally important in attracting more investments in the country,” Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines president Francis Lim said in a statement.

Lim said they drew optimism from Duterte’s fresh push for the passage of changes to the Foreign Investments Act, Public Service Act and Retail Trade Liberalization Act which are pending before Congress.

Another said they want more business-friendly rules enforced on the President’s last year in office.

“We are happy he encouraged Congress to pass the three economic bills to help spur the economy but was hoping to hear more on other bills and actions he is planning for final year,” AmCham’s Hinchcliffe said.

RELATED: Why the Delta variant is spreading so much faster than other coronavirus strains

For his part, Lopez also noted that these measures will surely invite more foreign investments as the government looks for ways to achieve economic recovery. More investments will also translate to more jobs, lifting more Filipinos from unemployment, he added.

The Trade chief said they are already seeing signs of economic recovery - like exports and manufacturing index improving. Gross domestic product and unemployment are seen to improve in the coming period as long as there will be no "extreme lockdowns," he noted.

"As long as we are able to reopen, we see a faster reaction to employment. In other words, more people are going back to work, more sectors, more businesses are opening up again," Lopez said.

CNN Philippines digital producer Bamba Galang contributed to this report.