[OPINION] Policy proposals to address the coronavirus and its economic effects

Antonio F. Trillanes IV
[OPINION] Policy proposals to address the coronavirus and its economic effects
'China, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan did not stop their public transport systems. All of these countries know that continuous, albeit limited, mobility and economic activity are essential to their people's survival.'

While there have been laudable moves on the part of government, such as the closure of schools for a month, banning of mass gatherings, working from home, and the imposition of the social distancing strategy, there are inadequacies in its total lockdown policy as it penalizes rather than incentivizes proper behavior at this time. This could even exacerbate the problem as it fails to provide for alternatives to the poor.

In public policymaking, best practices are usually replicated, so the same or similar results are expected. However, at this point in time, there are still no best practices as the whole world is still grappling with the coronavirus crisis.

The lockdown in China is definitely not best practice since they still have the most number of COVID-19 cases (more than 80,000) and the most number of deaths (more than 3,000). Plus, the fact that the lockdown itself was the culprit as to why the residents of Wuhan fled to different parts of the world, which eventually spread the virus globally.

Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, on the other hand, didn’t impose a lockdown but seemed to be managing the worst of the crisis without reaching the level of cases and deaths in China. But all of them, including China, did not stop their public transport systems. Precisely, because all of these countries know that continuous, albeit limited, mobility and economic activity are essential to their people’s survival. (READ: Coronavirus keeps 500 million people home around the world)

Thus, the policy challenge now is not only how to contain COVID-19, but also how to minimize the economic dislocation it would cause.

In view of the above, in addition to the laudable policies in effect as mentioned above, the following are some policy recommendations:

On health

1. Require all individuals going out of their homes to wear at least a cloth mask or even a large handkerchief wrapped around the face (ideally, with goggles or eyeglasses). This could help prevent the spread of the virus through abrupt or uncovered coughing or sneezing for the undiagnosed carrier, while protecting the healthy from the droplets.

2. Require all business establishments, government offices, all MRT stations, and bus terminals, to have alcohol stations at multiple points within their areas.

3. Require MMDA personnel and other pertinent government workers to man alcohol stations in waiting areas for buses, the MRT, and jeepneys for random alcohol disinfection of hands. Call for citizen volunteers to provide for this alcohol disinfection operation.

4. Government to require alcohol and surgical mask producers to increase their production and procure their produce for mass distribution to hospitals, frontliners, and disinfection operations.

5. Lift the ban on PUVs and treat drivers and conductors as frontliners essential to the delivery of public services. Provide them with personal protective equipment.

6. Prepare schools near hospitals or makeshift medical tents as possible isolation areas for COVID-19 patients in case the number of the infected increases beyond the capacity of the hospitals.

7. Move the hospital triage stations to open areas outside the hospital so that incoming regular patients and their relatives could not be infected by suspected COVID-19 patients.

8. Mobilize willing nursing students or unemployed nursing graduates to work with pay as nursing assistants in public or private hospitals at government expense. Provide for makeshift sleeping areas for them to optimize both resting and service time.

9. Government must set up multiple testing centers for early detection and treatment.

10. Government to expedite the release of medical supplies imported through Customs.

11. Only essential foreigners (diplomats, spouses of citizens, working expats) should be allowed entry into the country.

But all international passengers including returning citizens, should be treated as suspected carriers and, therefore, must be tested and go on self-quarantine.

On labor and the economy (legislation required)

1. Prepare a P500-billion economic stimulus package for industries and SMEs heavily affected by the crisis. This should include bailouts, tax relief, cash doleouts to workers, etc.

2. Provide grants to employers who provide paid leaves for their employees.

3. Government to coordinate with banks for a 1-month moratorium on loan amortizations.

4. Government to distribute vouchers for groceries to daily wage earners affected.

5. Realign P200 billion of the current budget on infra to expand the 4Ps program. –

Antonio F. Trillanes IV is a lecturer on public policy and former senator.