More COVID-19 tests to prevent return to ECQ – NEDA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 10) – The Philippines can avoid a return to the strictest quarantine rules if it can ramp up coronavirus tests, acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua said.

"We are on track to achieving the 32,000 tests per day... This trajectory, we think, will not bring us back to the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine)," Chua said during Friday's #AskNEDA media briefing. He said it would allow more effective tracing and treatment strategies.

"Once evidence of steady progress towards meeting the health targets is observed, we can further relax the community quarantines and move toward more localized quarantine at the barangay or municipal level, as needed," he added.

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Chua bared plans of the government to test at least 10 million Filipinos in the next 12 months, including ordinary workers. Daily tests are targeted at 32,000 to bring down the country's positivity rate to below 5 percent –– meaning only five out of every 100 people test positive for the disease.

Last week, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said proposed rules for wider testing covers returning workers in the service industry, with a test to be done upon returning to the workplace and every three months thereafter.

At present, Chua said about 75 percent of the economy has reopened since authorities relaxed quarantine rules. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III earlier added that Metro Manila and Calabarzon should be allowed to reopen fully as soon as possible as they account for 67 percent of the local economy.

However, Chua explained that just half of the country's public transport capacity has been reopened, owing to strict social distancing protocols meant to prevent further infections.

"We are looking at the advice of healthcare experts to help us determine to what extent can we open public transport while maintaining the safety of the passengers," he said.

Chua, also the head of the National Economic and Development Authority, added the economy likely shrank further in the second quarter, but could be "slightly improving" from July-December. The economic team estimates losses brought about by the pandemic at ₱2 trillion as of May, which will trigger a 3.4 percent contraction for the full year. However, Chua said these forecasts are under review, noting the impact of ECQ was "more severe than expected."

The government's priority infrastructure projects and the rest of the "Build, Build, Build" program are also being reassessed, with Chua saying an updated pipeline will be released "very soon." Shovel-ready projects, as well as those with "maximum impact" on the economy will be prioritized.

"Every ₱1 million spent on the infrastructure program, we are seeing around one job that is being created," he added, noting they can generate about a million jobs in this sector.

The economic team already revised its priority projects in 2019, focusing on smaller programs and dropping the bigger and "not feasible" blueprints halfway through the Duterte administration.