Philippines: Current situation on the coronavirus

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published on 13 March 2020 | reading time approx. 3 minutes

 

With a population of 107 million, 52 people in the Philippines are currently officially infected with the corona virus. Five people have died from the disease or from the interrelation of the virus with a previous illness.




General situation

After the Philippine President declared a medical emergency in the Philippines on 9 March 2020 following the first confirmed case of local transmission, the “Philippine Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease”, headed by the Philippine Department of Health, announced the highest alert level of the Philippine Covid-19 warning system (“Code Red Sublevel 2”) on 12 March 2020. This means that a community-wide transmission is assumed, and it enables the Philippine government to quarantine local areas, among other things. Only a few hours later, the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, declared Metro Manila a quarantine zone. Previously, the number of people suffering from coronavirus had increased to 50 patients within hours. Only a few days earlier, on 6 March 2020, the number of confirmed cases was still five patients.

 

In his address to the nation, the President essentially followed the recommendations of the “Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease”. According to these recommendations, the following measures will be taken for the constitutionally guaranteed protection of the population:

 

  • For a provisional period of 30 days, the capital of the Philippines will be subjected to “Stringent Social Distancing Measures”. This means in particular that school lessons will be suspended during this period with the individual administrative districts having to ensure that the pupils ultimately stay at home;
  • (Large) events that could potentially lead to a health risk are prohibited;
  • A "Community Quarantine" will be imposed on Metro Manila as a whole, as well as those districts outside Metro Manila where COVID-19 is detected in at least two households or districts;
  • The work of the executive branch is to be suspended except for a core staff (without significant impairment of the administrative services). The legislative and judicial branches are recommended to take similar measures;
  • For the private sector, flexible working time arrangements (including home-office arrangements) are recommended, for which the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Trade and Industry are to issue further guidelines to protect the working population - or have already done so. The industrial, service and retail sectors are to remain operational during the period mentioned, taking into account health precautions;
  • Means of transport for large numbers of people (e.g. track railway transport) are to be maintained, being, however, subject to specific health precautions to be published.

 

The above-mentioned measures still raise some questions with regard to their practical application. In particular it remains to be clarified, where the boundaries are to be drawn between a real “lock down” (which is deliberately not desired for various reasons) and “social distancing measures”. F.e.: The extent to which freedom of travel is restricted or how the regulations will affect the movement of goods. While domestic flights are to be cancelled without exception between 15 March and 14 April, foreign travellers do not appear to be affected at present. From an economic point of view, however, a decline in air travel to the Philippines is expected, which could lead to the airlines cancelling flights in whole or in part.

 

As of March 13, 2020, travelers from the Philippines will be denied entry to the Emirate of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However, transit is still permitted. The Philippines currently restrict entry from China, Hong Kong and Macau. However, the government's press spokesman has indicated in a press release that the travel restrictions could soon be extended to other countries where a local transmission of the virus has been documented.

 

Some authorities have adjusted their working hours or are closed, which will obviously have an impact on the activities of business companies. This will need to be monitored more closely in the coming days. Projects and compliance measures could be delayed as a result. So far, official deadline matters have not (yet) been suspended or delayed. Companies are particularly curious about the deadlines for filing annual financial statements and tax returns, which are due in the near future.


In many office and public buildings, the body temperature is measured at the entrances and an increasing amount of disinfectant is being provided. In line with the non-binding recommendations of the Ministry of Labor, many companies have created opportunities for flexible working hours and enabled made home working, provided that the work activity allows for it. In addition, the Ministry of Labor has provided some interpretation on issues such as flexible working hours and continued pay. In this context, it should be noted that the Philippine Constitution and labor laws do not allow for the withdrawal of previously granted rights. 

 

Flexible working hours

Under certain conditions, flexible working hours (as a milder means of an operational dismissal or closure) can be ordered by the employer. Flexible working arrangements refer to alternative arrangements or to schedules that differ from traditional or customary working hours, working days, and working weeks, as follows:

  • Reduction of working hours and/or working days – the normal working hours or working days per week are reduced;
  • rotation of employees – employees are provided with work during the week on a rotational basis or alternatively;
  • compulsory leave – employees have to take leave for several days or weeks, using their holiday credit, if any.

 

Employers and employees may consider other alternative working arrangements to mitigate the effects of loss of income for employees.

 

Wage payment

The “No Work - No Pay” principle continues to apply – depending on the circumstances – unless there is a more favorable company policy, practice or collective agreement (CBA). Employees may be allowed to use accrued vacation days so that they receive compensation on the days concerned.

 

Employees who do not perform their work or even refuse to work because of legitimate concerns for their health are generally not subject to sanctions. However, in this case, an individual assessment needs to be made in accordance with the specific company and the individual case.

 

Dealing with the Coronavirus

Within the framework of the “Labor Advisory No 4-2020”, employers should take the following measures, among others, in connection with the coronavirus:

  • Keep working areas clean and provide water, soap and disinfectants;
  • Avoid direct contact of workers with animals, a work environment and objects that may be contaminated by coronavirus;
  • Ensuring that food is processed and prepared in canteens or similar establishments in accordance with the regulations;
  • Calling on all workers to take care of their health and to maintain a clean workplace;
  • Monitoring the health of all workers, particularly those with fever and flu-like symptoms, and those who have travelled to countries at risk.

 

If there is a suspicion that a worker has become infected with the coronavirus, the following measures should be taken:

  • Provision of a face mask;
  • Immediate isolation of the worker in a well-ventilated room;
  • Referring the employee to the company doctor, a hospital or other health care provider to investigate the suspicion;
  • Report the incident to the Department of Health (Contact nos.: 8-711-1001 and 8-711-1002);
  • Ensure that the recommendations of the Department of Health regarding the handling and transportation of possible victims are followed;
  • Ensure that security measures are in place to deal with suspected cases;
  • Disinfecting the working environment.

 

Outlook

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) expects a loss of 30,000 to 50,000 jobs in the tourism industry alone if the number of tourists actually falls by 1.4 million in the current year. The Asian Development Bank assumes a potential loss of 87,000 jobs in the best case, and up to 252,000 unemployed Filipinos in the event of a further escalation of the coronavirus. Individual companies in the manufacturing sector report challenges in their supply chains.

 

NEDA has revised its forecast for economic growth in 2020 from 6.5 to 7.5 percent to 5.5 to 6.5 percent. While the Philippines has seen relatively low numbers of confirmed cases in recent weeks, the number of cases has jumped in the last week – but still at a relatively low level. In the coming one to two weeks in particular, the situation will have to be closely monitored both, from a health perspective and in terms of its impact on business operations, operational compliance and the economy as a whole.

 

There are still many unanswered questions, especially regarding foreign travel and tax matters.

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