THE national government is more cautious in placing Metro Manila or the National Capital Region (NCR) under Alert Level 1  (AL1) due to the higher capacity of establishments that are allowed and the lifting of age restrictions, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

Neda Undersecretary for Policy and Planning Rosemarie G. Edillon noted a “big difference” between AL1 and Alert Level 2 (AL2). She said capacity utilization will jump to as much as 50 to 60 percent from only 30 to 40 percent, while age restrictions will be lifted.

This means, Edillon told BusinessMirror, more Filipinos will be allowed outside their homes. With this, it was important for the government to ensure that de-escalating to AL1 will require that cases stay low and stable while NCR is under AL2, or declining.

Late Saturday, Malacañang Palace said Manila and dozens of other areas will remain under Alert Level 2 until the end of the month as authorities continue to monitor if the easing of restrictions will translate to higher Covid-19 cases.

Under Resolution No. 148-F. series of 2021 issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), the duration of the Alert Level 2 status of NCR is extended from November 21, 2021 until November 30, 2021.

“We intend to de-escalate to AL1 with much caution. That is why the area [NCR or province/city] has to be at low risk for a sustained period of time under AL2,” Edillon explained at the weekend.

“We need to see that there would not be an increase in cases under AL2, which we know, depends on LGUs’ enforcement and people’s compliance to minimum health standards. In addition, LGUs must be vigilant to implement GL, as necessary,” she added.

However, Edillon said in a recent television interview, that should current trends continue, it is possible that Metro Manila will be placed under AL1 by the first week of December.

Currently, she said, the 7-day moving average of Covid-19 cases in NCR is at 160 cases. This level should be kept for at least another week to determine if Metro Manila can be placed under AL1. The data will soon be examined by the Sub-Technical Working Group (TWG) to assess progress in fighting the pandemic.

“Essentially, yes [low cases in NCR for a month before it is placed under AL1]. Cases have to be low-risk for 2 incubation periods or 1 month,” Edillon said.

One thing is for sure, Edillon said: Filipinos will have a better and happier Christmas this year compared to 2020 given the progress in fighting the pandemic.

Still, she cautioned that observing health safety protocols is crucial given the recent spike in cases in Europe, where some countries have observed a fourth wave in Covid-19 cases.

Jobs

Meanwhile, the benefits of being placed under AL2 such as the increase in jobs, may not yet be observable, according to Edillon. She said this is based on the time lag in the release of data as well as the adjustment of businesses.

It takes 6 to 7 weeks before the government releases the results of the Labor Force Survey (LFS) bearing the official labor data.

And, even if NCR is already under AL2, some businesses may need more time to adjust their operations. They may not be able to hire new workers immediately because they want to determine if reopening or expanding their operations would be sustained.

In a television interview, Edillon said the impact of placing Metro Manila under AL2 could be observed sometime in December or even January next year.

In order to help employees get back on their feet, Edillon offered some advice to businesses. “We strongly advise them [businesses] to get safety seal certification, which also means that they need to Covid-proof their workspaces and stores. It is also a good idea to maintain some business processes online to be more resilient,” she added.

Requiring employees to be vaccinated when they report back to work is a matter that can be discussed by employers and employees.  When it comes to these matters, it is important that consultations are made, she said.

Earlier, Neda said the Philippine economy stands to gain at least P3.6 billion every week should the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) decide to place Metro Manila under Alert Level 2 or better from the current Alert Level 3.

Neda also estimated that such a move would reduce unemployment by 16,000 individuals. The gains for the economy are expected to be greater at around P10.3 billion a week if the National Capital Region (NCR) is placed on Alert Level 1 from Alert Level 2. This would reduce unemployment by 43,000.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said during a webinar of the Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines (EJAP) said that if the alert level of Metro Manila is de-escalated to Level 1 from Level 3, the economy stands to gain around P14 billion a week and reduce unemployment by around 59,000.

Neda estimates also showed that including areas outside of NCR would lead to an additional gain of P4.7 billion a week if the alert level is de-escalated to Alert Level 2 from 3. This will lead to 20,000 Filipinos finding jobs.

If the Alert Level is further de-escalated to Alert Level 1 from 2 in areas outside Metro Manila, this would lead to the economy gaining P13.3 billion weekly. This would also lead to a reduction of 56,000 among the unemployed.





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