The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is proposing to allow all businesses to open but at different operating capacities depending on the alert level status of their location.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez is pitching for this option to avoid disruptions in business operations, which can delay the country’s economic recovery.

He admitted that an “open-close-open system” is difficult for businesses, prompting many of them to just decide to close their establishments.

“So the good approach is to have continuity in operations and jobs, regardless of all levels. Changes only in operating capacity. So there’s continuity, not an open-close-open system,” Lopez said.

The DTI chief said moving from Alert Level (AL) 3 to AL 4, for example, need not necessitate business closures, but a mere reduction in operating capacity.

He said that while some businesses would not want to open at limited capacity given the possibility of not earning any profit, the majority of businesses they consulted supported the idea of continuing their operations even if they can only accommodate a few customers.

These businesses, Lopez said, believe that even if they will operate at a reduced capacity, this would still lead to additional revenues that they can generate to pay for employee salaries and rental.

“At least there are some revenues coming in. So even if [it’s] at 10 percent indoor and 30 percent outdoor, they’ll take it,” Lopez said in a television interview on Thursday.

Lopez said allowing the operation of more businesses such as gyms and fitness centers will also help improve the health and immunity of Filipinos to diseases, including Covid-19.

However, Lopez said the government will remain open to the possibility of adjusting the operating capacities that will be allowed under various ALs. If allowing businesses to operate will not lead to outbreaks and a surge in cases, the government may consider adjustments.

Lopez told reporters on Viber that these adjustments could mean increasing the operating capacity of businesses to 20 percent or 30 percent for indoor activities in AL 4 areas, and increasing outdoor activities to 50 percent from 30 percent, regardless of vaccination status.

Another option is to use the Safety Seal system, which allows businesses to increase their operating capacity by 10 percentage points if they meet the criteria such as having all their employees vaccinated, among others.

“As mentioned, we are in a pilot stage. We continue to adjust and fine-tune these rules so that we can really live with the virus, operate, and find that balance between the economy and the health side,” Lopez said.

At the height of the enhanced community qurantine last year, Lopez said 40 percent of businesses in the National Capital Region Plus area were closed. The number of closed establishments continued to decline to as low as 4 percent as the government eased mobility restrictions.

Lopez estimated that around 76,000 to 80,000 firms did not operate even under general community quarantine. This included businesses that are engaged in entertainment and other similar activities.

Further, he said, around 70,000 to 80,000 firms permanently closed because of the pandemic. However, despite this, Lopez said, the number of businesses continued to grow even during the pandemic.

Lopez estimated that there are now around 2 million businesses from around 1.7 million in the pre-pandemic period. Prior to this, there has been a steady increase in new businesses of around 200,000 annually.

He said many of those who lost their jobs decided to register their own online businesses, while other firms adopted new models that required them to operate under a different entity. This has led to the steady climb in the number of establishments in the country.

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