The number of Filipinos who went hungry because they had no food to eat rose to a record in July, in another sign of the human toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, based on an opinion poll. Four months of quarantine had also resulted in millions of job losses and the first recession in 22 years, based on previous data.
The Social Weather Stations estimated some 5.2 million families experienced involuntary hunger in that last three months. The 20.9% hunger rate recorded during the July 3 to 6 poll was the highest since the 22% tallied in September 2014, equivalent to roughly 4.8 million families.
The hunger rate is the sum of those who reported "moderate" hunger (going hungry only once during the survey period) and "severe" hunger (going hungry often). The SWS said its telephone poll covered 1,555 respondents, with an error margin of 2% for national percentages.
The numbers show the "importance of opening the economy and providing livelihood opportunities to our people," Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said. "We therefore call on our citizens that in order to save the economy and people’s jobs, we first have to save lives by ramping up testing for COVID-19 and observing the minimum public health standards by wearing masks, washing hands and keeping a safe distance."
The rate was highest in Visayas (27.2% or 1.3 million families), followed by Mindanao (24.2% or 1.4 million families), Luzon excluding the National Capital Region (17.8% or 2 million families) and Metro Manila (16.3% or 546,000 families).
The economy is expected to shrink further in the April to June quarter, with official data due out in August. Two successive quarters of contraction qualifies as a recession. Official numbers released earlier showed that the unemployment rate soared to a record 17.7% in April, padding the total jobless Filipinos to 7.3 million.
On July 27, President Rodrigo Duterte will deliver his penultimate State of the Nation Address, where he is expected to address the twin health and human crises spawned by the pandemic. Confirmed COVID-19 cases breached the 70,000-mark this week and unless infections slow, Metro Manila could return to a stricter lockdown or modified enhanced community quarantine.
Earlier Wednesday, the chief implementer of Duterte's pandemic response, Sec. Carlito Galvez previewed a "hammer and dance" strategy of localized lockdowns to prevent businesses from closing.