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In one of my meetings with OCTA Research and the IATF’s Sec. Carlito Galvez, I told them that I got in trouble when I called for the early lockdown in the first week of August. Delta was only then beginning to push up the cases and many businesses were still suffering from the previous lockdowns, and here I was asking for the NCR to shut down yet again for another two weeks.
I got a lot of flak for that. Even the biggest business chamber had some very choice words about it, but no amount of strong language was to detract from the hard data. OCTA looked at the numbers and said that we needed to stop the rise in cases immediately or suffer the consequences. OCTA’s Ranjit Rye was convinced that it was the logical thing to do. A little criticism comes with the territory, so we persisted.
I knew that if the case numbers got worse, we might lose the fourth quarter, the final chance we have this year to save many MSMEs and millions of jobs. Something had to be done, and harsh language was not about to get in our way.
To call for two weeks of hard lockdown was news even to our friends in local government. Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte even called me up to ask me if this was for real, and I said yes, the data is telling us that if we sacrifice two weeks today, we can save the remaining months of the year.
I am grateful for leaders like the Metro Manila mayors and Sec. Galvez, who trust in the data and understand the value of short-term sacrifices for long-term gain. Quezon City joined our call and the IATF supported the lockdown, which was implemented in August. This even as the cases started to climb faster than expected right after the start of the lockdown. Quite predictably, the naysayers started wagging their fingers.
I must say, we were concerned, but we were undeterred. We knew we were doing the right thing. We knew that it would prevent more deaths, and we knew that cases would drop if we sacrificed those two weeks in August.
Fast forward to the first week of October and we see the cases dropping to levels that were pre-Delta variant. Even the DOH was surprised by the steep decline in cases.
With hope, this can lead to saving the fourth quarter, which is a crucial time for many MSMEs. The strong consumer spending by Christmas and for the election season is a lifeline to many struggling entrepreneurs.
We now look forward to lowering to Alert Level 2 in November, but always with the knowledge that this war is not over. We will need to scale up vaccinations even more, with the vaccines arriving in numbers that can now reach the entire Philippines. We need to vax to the max! We need to strengthen the Bakuna bubbles.
Gen. Galvez has done a great job as chief implementor in securing vaccines for the country. He did this at a time when not much was known about which vaccines would come out the best, and he had to make decisions when other countries were racing to get their own supply.
My own experience in leading the A Dose of Hope initiative was that we took a huge risk with AstraZeneca, having placed orders for hundreds of millions without yet having an MHRA approval. Securing vaccines when the entire world wants it was a huge risk for a country like the Philippines. Many of the vaccines, if not all, were under emergency use approval and there was so much pressure on the decision makers. Despite the odds they made the right choices. A Dose of Hope, the tripartite agreement between the private sector, government, and the vaccine manufacturers, became a huge success.
We now have the responsibility to ensure a smooth transition to the next administration. I would like to believe that we have laid down the basic strategy in living with COVID-19 so that we can manage whatever variants will come in the future.
We should use this time to vaccinate. With more people going out, the risk of a surge will always be there. We must reach out to the provinces where vaccine hesitancy is highest. A survey conducted from Sept. 11 to 16 by OCTA Research found that vaccine hesitancy is highest in the Visayas (32 percent), followed by balance Luzon (24 percent), and Mindanao (19 percent). We also need to reach our fellow Filipinos in the lower socioeconomic classes, where as many as 22 percent are among the Class D, and 29 percent among the Class E, said they would not get vaccinated.
The success of our efforts will be determined by the number of people we vaccinate. Even with a rise in infections, with a fully vaccinated population, we can prevent severe cases and hospitalization. This is the key to living with COVID.
I have learned that we are sometimes thrust into roles that we never expected. There are those of us who are given the very rare opportunity to serve the Filipino people. With God’s grace and guidance from the angels, we can only pray that every decision we make will be the right one. The rest, as the Filipino saying goes, is up to us.
“Nasa tao ang gawa, nasa Diyos ang awa.”
Let us continue to help one another during this pandemic. We have seen all too clearly that our time on earth is all too brief and there is little time to waste on bickering. We need to do our best and take every opportunity to help one another.