Gov’t urged to draw up retooling, jobs plan amid Covid 19 threat

A lawmaker on Sunday urged the government to draw up an emergency skills retooling and jobs plan for thousands of workers facing retrenchment as the tourism and travel sectors struggle to reduce their capacities amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid 19) outbreak.

Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel called on the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to put together a plan to help the displaced workers transition to other jobs.

Pimentel said the Social Security System (SSS) should also prepare to dole out up to PHP20,000 in unemployment insurance to every worker involuntarily separated.

He said the Philippines stands to lose up to 1.2 million Chinese visitors this year due to the Covid 19 threat.

Even if the virus is suppressed by the second quarter, we're afraid the damage to our tourism sector has already been done. We do not anticipate a quick rebound in Chinese visitor arrivals assuming two way air travel between China and the Philippines is eventually restored, Pimentel said.

Pimentel said China might temporarily discourage its middle class families from venturing overseas on tour groups and flight/hotel vacation packages.

Beijing might instead encourage families to spend their money in the mainland to enable China's economy to recover right away, he added.

Pimentel said the average Chinese tourist in the Philippines on a packaged tour spends between USD1,000 to USD1,200 for a week long stay, creating a huge demand for local goods and services, especially in the provinces.

According to DOT data, Chinese nationals accounted for 21.10 percent of the 8,260,913 foreigners that visited the Philippines last year.

Meanwhile, Anakalusugan Rep. Michael Defensor said the government should consider developing the capacity to quickly mass produce face masks in light of the worldwide shortage of the anti viral personal device.

Our sense is, it might be practical for the government itself to be ready all the time to steadily produce large quantities of face masks, not just to help us fight off Covid 19, but also other highly infectious respiratory diseases that might emerge in the future, Defensor said.

He said the country cannot rely on imported supplies during potential global health emergencies.

Defensor further said large private manufacturers in India are able to mass produce the masks for as low as PHP1 a piece, noting that cost should not be an issue if the Philippine government itself resorts to fabricating the device.

The government should consider importing the mask making machines and find ways to assure a stable supply of raw materials to guarantee sustained production, if necessary, he added.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) on Jan. 31 ordered the state run Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC) to find ways to procure up to 5 million face masks from abroad to augment local supplies, especially for health workers.

The DTI has also contracted the country's only large scale private manufacturer of face masks, export oriented Medtech International Corp. Ltd., to step up production for local distribution.