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As new COVID-19 cases dropped to 1,591 – close to yearago levels – last November 3, Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion said he feels vindicated about his decision to call for a strict lockdown back in August.
“When I called for an early lockdown to be implemented in the National Capital Region (NCR) in the first week of August, not everyone was happy. They said it was not the remedy, and that it would cost the economy and result in the loss of jobs,” Concepcion said.
“If we had gone into that lockdown back in August, we would not be looking forward to a Merry Christmas right now,” he said.
It will be recalled that COVID-19 cases in the Philippines started to rise in the middle of 2021, following the detection of the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus. Concepcion, heeding the advice of experts from OCTA Research, called for the NCR to be put under Enhanced Community Quarantine. The government had earlier been considering extending the less stringent General Community Quarantine with heightened restrictions for NCR.
“The Philippines then was logging a rolling average upwards of 7,000 cases a day, which went on a steady, upward climb to 10, 12, 14 thousand cases by the start of August. We were admonished not to ‘fixate on the numbers’,” said Concepcion.
Groups of businessmen warned that locking down at that point would result in billions of pesos being lost and people deprived of employment, some even going so far as to question the credibility of OCTA Research, which is an independent and interdisciplinary research group. Since the beginning of the pandemic, OCTA Research has been providing analysis and projections of COVID cases based on government-supplied data.
Concepcion defended OCTA Research, saying they have proven themselves when it came to data analytics, and cited their projections when he stood his ground and called for an ECQ in the NCR.
Concepcion explained that sacrificing the first two weeks of August would save the critical fourth quarter of the year, when consumer spending will be highest because of the Christmas season and the coming elections in May 2022. Paving a clear path for business would also build confidence among banks, who can then start lending out money or even restructuring loans for businesses.
Concepcion found allies in the NCR mayors, who joined Concepcion’s call. “The NCR mayors knew the situation on the ground and the consequences of not acting swiftly. They came on board, and it was enough to convince the IATF to put NCR under ECQ in the first two weeks of August,” he said. Business organizations like PFA, PRA, MBC, MAP, FINEX, FEF, BAP, FFCCII, FICCI also supported Concepcion’s appeal.
As predicted, COVID cases started to climb during the last weeks of August and reached upwards of 20,000 new cases several times in September. But in October, cases suddenly went on a steep decline, eventually ending in levels not seen since before the Delta variant appeared in the country. Last Wednesday’s tally of 1,059 COVID cases accompanied months-low numbers in active infections and ICU utilization rates.
“So, yes, I feel vindicated,” said Concepcion. “The decision to lock down in early August was counterintuitive. By nature, all businessmen must be for taking every opportunity to do business. Any event that prevents him from doing so must be considered a loss and resisted at all costs. But real life tells us that the way forward is not always a straight line. Sometimes you have to double back in order to go forward and move even farther than you would have had you stayed stubborn and insisted on forcing your way in that straight line,” he said.
Saving lives and livelihoods has been an uphill battle for Concepcion. At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, he worked to create visibility of cases through testing, which then was quite costly due to the demand in test kits. He then advocated for Bakuna Bubbles, where fully vaccinated individuals are granted more mobility to help keep economic activity going but was seen by some sectors as discriminatory. Concepcion has now set his sights on raising vaccination levels in the provinces, where vaccine hesitancy remains high.
“Vaccines work. They protect people from severe infections and hospitalizations. Even if the number of infections starts going up, if the LGU has vaccinated 70 percent or more of its citizens there will be no need to worry that there will be another lockdown. While we cannot increase hospital capacity, we can decrease the number of people needing to go to the hospital,” he said.
“We must have a common goal. I believe the only way we can fully open up the economy is to VAX to the MAX. Vaccinate as many people as we can, as fast as we can,” he said.