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Since last year, when the pandemic struck the country hard, our first response – on top of mandating the use of face masks, face shields, and social distancing was a two-and-a-half-month lockdown. After months of prescribing local lockdowns of different scopes and durations, we can say that COVID-19, with its evolving strains, has become more challenging to mitigate – recognizing that we’ve underestimated the strength of this invisible enemy.
I remember when I called our first private-public sector meeting, it was at that time that we somehow created the Angat Lahat Alliance of all business organizations and chambers to support inclusive growth for our MSMEs, which we launched in Malacañang with President Duterte. I used that structure to start the discussion with the government on how we can achieve that critical balance of saving lives and livelihoods. Months later, this has transformed to a more formal structure called T3 (Test, Trace, and Treat), which was participated in by both the private and public sector, and created a consultative platform that enabled both sides to discuss, collaborate, and arrive at sound decisions.
My role with the President as the presidential adviser for entrepreneurship is the same with what Go Negosyo is doing at the moment, helping our MSMEs survive this economic crisis which was caused by a health crisis. We need to have a mindset that we are at war with an invisible enemy.
At that time, when the pandemic was just starting, the private sector had to increase visibility as to where the enemy is and how many of our employees have been infected. The testing capacity for RT-PCR was extremely very low, Red Cross had far more capability with its testing labs. This was when the private sector, during the early days, had to use antibody test kits to help create visibility. We recognize that RT-PCR was more accurate, it is the gold standard, but we needed time to build its capacity.
Seeing the need for a more expanded RT-PCR testing, many private sector companies came in to support 15 government hospitals and started setting up their own RT-PCR facilities. Red Cross, at the same time, accelerated its expansion. Visibility, being able to see the enemy, is one primary component to have a chance to win this war. As testing and isolation facilities were being built, the government continued its campaign, underlining the need to wear face masks and face shields, and observe social distancing – complementing this was the T3 initiative.
It’s been a little over a year that we have been trying to balance lives and livelihoods. Lockdowns, currently, are the primary solution being used to save lives, but this has taken a toll on our livelihoods. But as we open up livelihoods, infection levels move up and lives are still being lost in the process. Frustratingly, we find ourselves back to where we started and maybe even worst, but we are wiser now. It is easy to criticize, but that does not help, especially as we are at war with one common enemy. We need to be united as a nation and this unity will increase our chance of winning this war.
Our enemy is COVID-19. The virus is mutating, making it more challenging – as we can see that now. Many people that we know, our friends, family, and neighbors are getting infected and dying. Our strategy should now be focused on the vaccines, as we can see that in countries that have successfully deployed their vaccination program, from countries like Israel, Singapore, and some states in America, among others, they have started to see a dramatic reduction in the levels of infection and are able to safely open up their economy.
As early as August last year, we started laying down the foundations on how the private sector can procure vaccines. With the help of the government, we started the discussions with AstraZeneca, and Sec. Carlito Galvez provided the framework that would allow us to procure the much-needed doses as requested by the vaccine manufacturers. We started the campaign to encourage the private sector to be part of this program and on Nov. 27, 2020, we successfully launched the first batch of the ‘A Dose of Hope’ with 36 companies. This was followed by the second wave of the ‘A Dose of Hope,’ which was signed last Jan. 14, with around 300 company donors and 39 participating LGUs.
We did not stop there. We supported the efforts of Ricky Razon for Moderna by consolidating the small orders and moved to support Faberco and Unilab for the Novavax vaccines. Also, we have been shepherding Ambica and IP Biotech on Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin for over a month, and it finally got conditional approval just the other day.
This war is escalating, with the virus mutating and the other variants becoming more infectious. We need to focus our vaccines on NCR plus, which is the epicenter of this battle. If we succeed with NCR plus, from which the bulk of our GDP comes, then victory for the Philippines will be attained. Our vaccines will start to arrive in bigger numbers and I am glad that the FDA and DOH have allowed all those below 60 to be vaccinated with AstraZeneca. I am glad the FDA has given Janssen and Covaxin their EUA approval and we hope that Novavax and Moderna will, likewise, be given EUA approval soon.
The vaccine is our ultimate weapon in winning this war, it is already here and available. Moreover, equally important is the successful rollout of these vaccines in our LGUs and the private sector. We need to convince our employees and our citizens that they must all be vaccinated. We are at war and it’s the duty of every citizen that is called on to defend the country – we fulfill this duty by taking the vaccine which will protect us and all those around us.
At this very important stage, let us stay united, focused on our strategy, and win this battle to save lives and livelihoods.