Government and private sector probe safe exit strategies
ALMOST NORMAL Commuters fill a Light Rail Transit coach on Thursday, February 24, 2022. More Filipinos are getting out as Covid-19 cases plummet in Metro Manila and mayors fight for further easing of restrictions . PHOTO BY JOHN RYAN BALDEMOR
THE private sector is working with government to explore “safe exit strategies” from the Covid-19 pandemic.
During the recent virtual town hall meeting with medical and data experts, government officials and private sector representatives, Presidential Advisor for Entrepreneurship Jose Maria “Joey” Concepcion 3rd said reopening the economy is become more urgent now that the country is facing a serious debt problem.
He said the war in Ukraine has also pushed up commodity prices around the world and is expected to have an immediate impact on the local economy.
“We need to restore trust so that Filipinos come out and have more mobility,” Concepcion said.
“What we’ve really learned from the pandemic is that planning and forethought has really made a difference for us,” he added.
Concepcion also highlighted the need to revitalize schools and offices. “We want to see more activity here. I think we should start encouraging people to go back to offices and schools.
National Authority for Economics and Development (NEDA) Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon, who attended the meeting, said that many players in the informal sector depend on the revival of the formal sector.
“We need a whole-of-society approach,” Edillon said. “We need to instill confidence and send the right message that we are on the right path and if we work together we can really get out there.”
NEDA is implementing phase 5 of its national action plan for the country’s exit from the pandemic.
The immunization program, which Undersecretary of Health Myrna Cabotaje says is crucial to the plan, is struggling with low demand for vaccines, low uptake of boosters, brand discrimination and overworked health workers. .
Cabotaje said the vaccination strategy is being refined to bring vaccinations closer to the people.
The upcoming National Immunization Day in March will focus on the elderly and those with comorbidities, Cabotaje said.
Other experts also intervened during the meeting.
Epimetrics’ Dr John Wong said the vaccination program was being hampered by distribution problems, long queues, inability to get an appointment and physical limitations for the elderly.
The president of the Philippine College of Physicians, Dr. Maricar Limpin, said a safe exit will depend on how Filipinos continue to meet public health standards.
Limpin said private establishments must continue distancing protocols on public transport and in the workplace, install better ventilation, stagger work hours or allow work from home for some workers.
Clear and simplified guidelines are needed for the education sector and the live performance and leisure sector.
The transportation sector is still crippled by Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board limitations that are driving up transportation costs and emboldening illegal operators, town hall attendees learned.
The personal services industry must help people overcome the apprehension of returning to gyms, spas and salons.
Experts at OCTA Research, meanwhile, find that risk levels across the country continue to decline.
“We expect almost all indicators to be very low,” said OCTA lead researcher Dr. Guido David. “Only new variants can change that, but at the moment no variants are seen. The situation is definitely improving.”
Professor Ranjit Rye, a researcher at OCTA, said that if these trends continue, the country can expect good forecasts until May.
Rye and other experts agreed that the focus could now shift from government control of the pandemic to personal responsibility.
“On our way to Tier 1, what we do as citizens will be more important than what the government has done to maintain this downward trend,” he said.
OCTA Fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco plans a gradual relaxation of Covid restrictions protocols, including reduced physical distancing and the eventual removal of masks for employees.
“We have to move from fear to responsibility,” Autriaco said. “The idea is to defuse and encourage people to come out.”