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MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 25 March) – Countries hit by the COVID-19 share a battle cry – flatten the curve. The phrase refers to the frantic efforts to reduce and eventually stop the occurrence of the disease. With the exception though of a few Asian countries like Singapore and South Korea, the bulges on the statistical graphs support projections by experts that the situation will become worse before it gets better.

And while the world’s attention is riveted to controlling the virus, fears of the contagion have brought the lives of millions to a standstill. Lockdowns have frozen time and space in several cities and communities. Individual caprice feels obliged to yield to the need for stricter utilitarian measures imposed through coercion that finds justification in a shared fear of an invisible enemy.

Yet, while no one would argue with the restrictions these have so far not flattened the curve of the pandemic but of economic activities instead. Experts warned the fallout from this global health crisis could lead to a recession.

Some First World countries are already contemplating of stimulus packages to cope with an imminent recession, which is expected to last at least until the third quarter of 2020. Small and medium enterprises will be the main recipients of fiscal assistance.

A similar intervention is needed in the Philippines where SMEs comprise the bulk of most local economies. Many of them would be forced to either shut down or lay off workers, if they haven’t done it yet, should the lockdowns and other restrictions on mobility and social interaction continue.

In addition, government has to attend to overseas Filipino workers who were unable to return to their jobs due to the travel ban and those who would be displaced if and when recession occurs. The impending arrival of around 30,000 Filipino seafarers, mostly crewmembers of luxury cruise ships, is a portent of things yet to come. This early, the country’s economic managers should make projections to come up with a realistic stimulus package.

But the immediate concern should be containing COVID-19 to enable people and communities to restore normalcy in their daily lives. Learn from the methods and best practices of countries in addressing the crisis. This is far more useful than granting emergency powers to the President.

Curbing the crisis means shortening too the draconian measures and the hardships they cause on ordinary people. It would also mean saving public funds that are now being used to subsidize poor families affected by lockdowns for other urgent needs. Besides, government can’t possibly extend the lockdowns for several months without inviting social unrest, and with it the dole-outs without going bankrupt.

For now, the police may brag that criminality has decreased with the imposition of lockdowns. But try extending the restrictions and wait until government food assistance dwindles or runs out, and you’d see how the crime curve goes.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at hmcmordeno@gmail.com.)

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