The positive side of COVID-19

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos (The Freeman) - July 25, 2020 - 12:00am

While most countries in Southeast Asia are able to successfully suppress the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Indonesia and us, the Philippines, are still trying to contain it. These two countries though have a common denominator. These are the two most populous countries in the region. 

However, the similarity ends there. While Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, will only shrink by .3 per cent this year according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Philippines is expected to contract by 3.6 per cent. Our prolonged and stringent lockdown did it. 

This observation is also confirmed by Capital Economics. Badly though, it projected that our economy will contract by 8 per cent this year. If true, then, we should be one of the worst performing economies in the region. 

Capital Economics also noted that the “long imposition of the lockdown will likely leave a substantial lasting damage to the labor market and household balance sheets.” Clearly, therefore, as inactivity continues, the situation can only go from bad to worse.

True enough, we are slowly reopening the economy. Remember, however, that health experts have always emphasized that, among others, physical or social distancing must be strictly observed. Yes, surely, this can be strictly observed in the workplace. However, it is an undeniable fact that in the highly urbanized cities like those in Metro Manila and Metro Cebu, most of these workers are living in densely populated areas. Obviously, therefore, the benefits of a strictly observed physical distancing in their workplaces will be totally negated by the level of congestion in their neighborhoods as they go home. 

Actually, the same is true in the major and highly congested cities in the world.  Realizing these realities, some companies there have started to make some bold but logical moves. They are either moving their facilities or expanding their activities in the suburbs or outlying districts of these crowded cities.

A recent survey conducted in the USA confirms this. According to the US-based trade association Site Selectors Guild (SSG) and place marketing firm Development Counsellors International, they surveyed 50 of the SSG members. Such survey revealed that “COVID-19 is encouraging US corporations to look at relocating and expanding operations to mid-sized cities and the suburbs at the expense of large urban areas.” 

According to Rick Weddle, president and CEO of the Site Selectors Guild, “everything from physical distancing to changing transit preferences has affected the way that corporations view location decisions.” 

Here in the country, the same template can be used. We must remember that the major cities in Metro Manila and Metro Cebu led all areas in the country in terms of the number of infections. A natural tendency since most of them are packed in these huge cities’ slum areas where physical distancing is just too impossible.

In fact, if we go deeper, we will find out that infections even in a sitio in these congested cities outnumbered most provinces in the country. 

Logically, therefore, it is about time that corporations with labor-intensive activities situated in the highly urbanized areas must rethink and consider expansion or relocation of their operations in the countryside. Lest they might forget, most of their workers, if not all, are from the countryside. 

So that, today, let us take a look at the positive side of COVID-19. As it continues to sow fear, most rural folks will definitely think twice of staying put in the big cities’ slum areas. They will surely go back to the countryside if opportunities to earn are present and reachable. When all the necessities like jobs, food, shelter, clothing as well as health and school facilities are available they shall surely savor the comfort and serenity of the countryside. 

Clearly, therefore, the most logical action to do at this point is for our business owners to consider relocating or expanding in the countryside. If seriously considered, both the business owners and the workers will truly enjoy the long and lasting benefit of such decision.

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