Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Tuesday added his voice to those saying the country cannot afford another hard lockdown despite the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
In a statement, Bello said implementing a full-scale lockdown could worsen the unemployment situation in the country.
“We cannot afford to go back to the hard lockdown situation and lose our jobs again,” Bello said.
“With the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the past week, we need to instill discipline in adhering to basic MPHS (minimum public health standards) — proper wearing of face mask and face shield, washing of hands, social distancing.”
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases reached over 3,000 a day in the past three days, blamed on the increase in people’s mobility as quarantine restrictions are gradually eased and more and more sectors are reopened for business.
The Labor chief made the statement after the Philippine Statistics Authority reported the results of its January 2021 Labor Force Survey, which found that the number of unemployed Filipinos rose by 1.6 million from 2.4 million in January 2020. 
The unemployment figures are also slightly higher by 200,000 compared to the 3.8 million jobless in the October 2020 round of the survey.
“The Task Group on Economic Recovery (TGER) and the National Employment Recovery Strategy (NERS) Task Force are doubling their efforts to achieve economic rebound and sustained labor market improvement in the new normal,” Bello said.
“The country’s recovery goal is to safely reopen the economy, bring back more workers in their jobs, and preserve and generate more employment for the Filipinos here and abroad,” he added.
The administration’s economic managers have laid out a “three-pronged” strategy, anchored on strict adherence to health protocols in reopening businesses and the government’s vaccination program, to accelerate recovery and job creation. 
Nonetheless, the Labor chief said the results of the January 2021 Labor Force Survey is “highly encouraging” with “the 1.6 million increase in the country’s labor force, and 1.4 million workers who had regained employment.”
Bello was referring to the increase in the labor force participation rate — the number of adults who are actively looking for work — to 60.5% or 45.2 million in January from 58.7% or 43.6 million in October 2020.
Employment rate, while it stayed at 91.3% compared to the October round of the survey, improved by 1.4 million to 41.2 million from 39.8 million in October 2020.
“Improvement in the employment situation shows that businesses and workers are starting to regain confidence with the safe reopening of the economy,” Bello said.
“We expect a better and more improved employment performance in the coming months with the vaccine being made available and more Filipinos under the priority categories getting inoculated,” he added.
Bello reiterated his call for the continued strict implementation of the minimum public health standards (MPHS), and occupational safety and health policies. —KBK, GMA News

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