Existing age restrictions hold back economic recovery, job creation – DTI chief

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 9) — Limiting people aged below 15 as well as older than 65 from heading out amid the COVID-19 crisis stands in the way of faster economic rebound and the jobs recovery, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said Wednesday.

Lopez, who just announced that he tested positive for COVID-19, lamented that the pace of economic recovery remains slow due to limitations on who can wander around to dine, shop, and travel.

"As far as industries and sectors are concerned, halos open na lahat... 'Yung pinag-uusapan ngayon [What we're talking about now], do we allow minors with parents to go out? That will be a big boost to the economy, especially to retail trade," Lopez said during a virtual media briefing.

"Malaking tulong 'yun dahil [It will be a big help because] we're really far from the pre-COVID levels," he added.

The economy shrunk by 10% so far this year, entering a recession for the first time since the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis.

Last week, the IATF allowed kids accompanied by parents to visit malls again but this was overruled by Metro Manila mayors, who said only those aged 18-65 can roam around to shop and spend. The ruling also applies to churchgoers for the traditional simbang gabi running up to Christmas Day.

Lopez added that the return to ultra-low unemployment rate of 5% may not be doable next year, as limited consumer spending also kept profits and expansion plans limited, leading to some business closures.

"Sectors are open pero kung kaunti ang nagpupunta para bumili, limited yung ibang ages, then limited pa rin ang consumption level," Lopez said. "Consumption level and the rate of recovery of business is the one that will bring back consumer confidence."

As the economic team waits for the easing of age restrictions, Lopez said they can look to the entry of new foreign investments for job creation as he anticipates a surge of interest following the passage of the new corporate income tax regime that lowers the rates paid by most businesses.

From an all-time high 17.7% unemployment in April – or about 7.3 million jobless Filipinos – the number has consistently declined to settle at 8.7% or 3.8 million people without work as of October. However, this was still a jump from just 2 million people unemployed a year ago.

Lopez pointed out that all industries are already open in areas under modified general community quarantine, adding that only Metro Manila and seven other areas are under the stricter GCQ until December 31.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles added that the cautious and gradual approach to reopening the economy will receive a boost from the "safety seal" program of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and local government units. He said it should bolster consumer confidence that they are visiting a restaurant or establishment which upholds the minimum health standards to prevent coronavirus infections.

RELATED: Pandemic may keep more Filipinos poor, jobless until next year

Meanwhile, Nograles said the recent decision to allow conference venues to accept meetings, seminars, and conventions at 30% capacity this December is a "manageable" risk for regulators, adding that this industry also needed help after nine months of shutdown.

READ: Experts: Allowing seminars, minors in malls goes against ‘sensible pandemic management’

Both Lopez and Nograles said with the proper wearing of masks and face shields, social distancing, frequent handwashing, and robust contact tracing, the feared infection surge due to the holiday season will be averted.

Lopez said there is a "likelihood" that Metro Manila, the country's main economic hub, can shift to the most relaxed form of quarantine by January. He said that a steady decline in active cases and slower attack rates of infections must be seen before this change.

So far, people outside the 15-65 age range are only allowed to step out of their homes for essential trips. However, this rule is relaxed for families traveling to tourist spots like Boracay.