What’s the lockdown exit plan?

On May 15, most parts of the country will be out of community quarantine. Some will be under general community quarantine (GCQ) while Metro Manila, if not parts of it, and Cebu City will remain under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). With these developments, and considering that things will never be normal as the pre-Covid-19 situation, the question is: What is the country’s post-community quarantine exit plan?

In discussing about exit plans, there are at least five areas to look at. These include the health system, new social arrangements, food security, transportation and mobility, and commerce.

So far, only the Department of Agriculture (DA) has presented its plan — the “Grow, grow, grow” — a combination of the old plan topped-up with Covid-response. According to the DA, the target is to sustain, reboot, and grow the agriculture industry towards socio-economic recovery and resiliency. To achieve this, the Department will institute and the implement the usual strategies of modernization, industrialization, export promotion, farm consolidation and infrastructure development. In addition, a new strategy is being introduced — the ALPAS COVID-19 or Plant, Plant, Plant Program that will be implemented with its twin Resiliency Response and Restoration Program.

As for the transportation and mobility sector, consultations are currently being done with the civil society taking active part on the matter. Eventually, we can expect people crowding at terminals and feeder lanes while buses and public transportation being half-filled. This includes the MRT which recently advised passengers to allocate at least two hours waiting time before boarding as only 13% of the total capacity of MRT3 — or 51 passengers per coach or 153 per train — will be allowed to board on any given trip.

But of course, this will be abated it the economic sector sits down with the transportation and communications sector. If the work from home will become the new normal, we will see a significant reduction in the commuting public. Otherwise, we’ll see more cars and private vehicles plying the streets again as those who would like to avoid the queues in public transportation terminals will be forced to bring their own rides.

Unfortunately, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Labor and Employment are still at loss. With the economic sector largely hit, these agencies do not seem to know where to start. What they are currently doing and will probably continue to do is to infuse money as economic stimulus. Most of these, though, are still pending in the Congress and include the following:

  • P10 billion infusion technology adoption and innovation to improve business resilience;
  • P20 billion loan for start-ups, micro, small and medium enterprises; and
  • P66 billion industrial development grants to support activities that will improve business resilience.

Missing in the list, which is more immediate, are the policies on working arrangements and conduct of business under the new normal particularly the IT-ization of the business transactions. The latter includes the shift to paperless transactions and enhanced implementation of the e-commerce law, among others.

For the health and social sectors, plans are still wanting though we can expect the continuing implementation of the Covid-19 guidelines on physical distancing and minimization of crowd gathering activities. As such, it is not impossible to witness a second wave of Covid-19 cases especially considering the lack of plans to Covid-proof our local health system.

Given this scenario, and considering that the President defaulted again to present a clear plan of where we are going post community quarantine, we cannot help but ask: Quo vadis, Philippines?

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