COVID-19’s other child

By: Joel Ruiz Butuyan - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/ | September 07,2020 - 08:00 AM


While our government is spending a lot of attention on the health crisis that has been fathered by the novel coronavirus, not enough attention is being devoted to COVID-19’s other child — the economic crisis. The economic catastrophe spawned by the pandemic is humongous, the likes of which we have never seen since World War II.

As of yesterday, the number of people infected by the virus in our country totals 237,365, of which 3,875 have died. On the other hand, 27.3 million Filipinos — a staggering 45.5 percent of our country’s adult labor force — have lost their jobs or livelihood, according to a Social Weather Stations survey taken July 3-6. The government puts our unemployed at a lower figure of 4.6 million for the same month, per Philippine Statistics Authority figures. Despite the huge disparity, if we go by anecdotal stories on the ground, the number of those who are losing their jobs is soaring and not decreasing.

While no deaths resulting from hunger has so far been reported, life has been sucked out of the existence of millions of our jobless countrymen. While the number of our sick and those who are getting sick is in the hundreds of thousands, the number of those who have lost their jobs is in the millions.

Of the two great misfortunes that one runs the risk of suffering in these challenging times, which one represents a less worse fate — getting sick with the virus but retaining one’s job, or avoiding the virus but losing one’s job? It’s not an easy pick, because the misery and dangers caused by either adversity are equally devastating.

This brings us to what the government has been doing to address both the health and economic crises. The health measures undertaken by our government are well discussed, defended, and also scorned. But there’s a dearth of discussion on the impact of governmental actions on the economic crisis.

From the point of view of businesses operating on the ground, governmental actions that affect them come in the form of obligations and prohibitions that saddle them with financial burden. This is on top of the monetary and operational hardships they’re already experiencing because of the pandemic. Employers spend for their employees’ masks, face shields, disinfection supplies, rapid test kits, physical distancing arrangements, sleeping provisions for staff, and even shuttle services. Their operations are hampered by a skeleton workforce. They’re obligated to minimize the number of customers inside their premises. And they’re not allowed to operate beyond a curfew period.

In the provinces, regulations that affect businesses are even more stifling. For those who travel in between provinces, they’re made to shoulder the expenses of multiple rapid tests which are priced with profit margins, they’re required to undergo quarantine periods even when they test negative, and they’re often subjected to intimidating behavior at checkpoints that discourage them from traveling in pursuit of their trades.

Businesses that continue to operate in these very challenging times are virtually functioning as social welfare deputies of the government, and more. They provide employment that prevents the number of people in need of government doles from rising further, they pay taxes that fund public coffers, they shoulder the health needs of their employees, and they enable other businesses to thrive.

The least the government should do to enable businesses to survive and to start flourishing again is to provide order and efficient procedures amid the disarray in health and travel regulations that unnecessarily suffocate business activity all over the country. The private sector needs an efficient, responsive, and compassionate government, in other words. Long after a medical vaccine is successfully developed against the coronavirus, our country will continue to suffer unless a virtual vaccine can be employed against the worsening economic malaise that plagues our country. This economic vaccine is none other than the community of businesses that will thrive in our midst.

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