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We are facing a big challenge in the economy at this point in time, that is why there is a certain urgency to contain the COVID-19 infection across the country.
Following a sharp increase in infections in the past few weeks, Cebu City is emerging as a new hotspot for COVID-19 in the country. The number of confirmed cases in the city passed the 5,000 mark by end-June, leaving the government no choice but to put the city under strict lockdown.
Last Tuesday, we met with chief implementor of National policy on COVID-19 Carlito Galvez Jr., Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Roy Cimatu, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, CCCI President Felix Tagium, Go Negosyo mentor and CCCI past president Virgilio “Nonoy” Espeleta, and different conglomerates and business chambers in Cebu. During the meeting, Go Negosyo – through our initiative, Project ARK – expressed our commitment to support and extend help to the province of Cebu with hopes to better mitigate the surge of COVID-19 cases.
To stem the rapid rise of cases, I believe that the key here is a more surgical approach. Like Metro Manila, Cebu may have to lock down the entire area first and get the infection rate under control. Once the number of infections stabilizes, the city can consider a more granular lockdown approach. This is something I’ve been advocating to the President the past few months. In this approach, certain barangays with high infection rates will remain under lockdown, while quarantine rules may be eased for the rest of the city. This is so that economic activity may continue and businesses may resume operations.
No one wants to see Cebu fail, because down the road, we want to re-open the tourism sector that will bring in the jobs that are desperately needed at this time. It is critical for the private and public sectors to work hand-in-hand with urgency so that we can bounce back at the soonest possible time. The private sector will work with the IATF and different chambers, while the government, under the leadership of Sec. Galvez, will continue to construct more COVID-19 facilities.
We are currently working with the Philippine Society of Pathologists Inc. (PSPI) and Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) to study and validate the accuracy of pooled PCR testing, which can also help in the mapping of the spread of infections in Cebu.
Pooled testing was first mentioned to me by ARK-PCR private chief implementor and former health secretary Rep. Jannette Garin. I strongly believe that RT-PCR pooled testing is a game-changer. It has the potential to increase the country’s testing capacity while bringing down costs since it utilizes more swabs but fewer test kits.
With the support of Rep. Garin, we hope to bring expanded pooled testing to Cebu that will test 10,000 individuals and gain better visibility of the virus. Instead of going in blind, the visibility from testing will allow us to approach and respond to the problem better. We have to make sure that the situation does not worsen. We must try our best in opening the economy as quickly and as safely as possible. Testing is the only way. Testing, tracing, and isolating cases are key.
Another thing we had discussed during a dialogue with government officials and business leaders was to put up dialysis centers inside various malls in Cebu. This strategy stems from Sec. Galvez’s request if we can help to set up dialysis center in malls. I immediately requested Rep. Garin to study this. To help the government in setting up dialysis centers, I got the CCCI and other business organizations involved to further talked steps in making this possible.
Instead of hosting renal patients in quarantine centers, individuals who need to undergo dialysis may do so at the malls. Here, they are safely protected from COVID-19 patients, limiting the risk of exposure and infection.
The malls are a good place to set up dialysis centers as long as they meet the 90-sqm requirement. A temporary facility can be set up in seven days and this can be converted into something more permanent after two weeks. We’re exploring this with our partners in the private sector.
“Basically, it’s providing a center that will temporarily serve (patients) and will be converted into a permanent (one), where non-COVID patients can be protected and their dialysis sessions will be ongoing,” Rep. Garin said.
In the virtual meeting led by ARK project lead Josephine Romero, SM Investments Corp.’s Tessie Sy-Coson also expressed her support for this new initiative. Our other Big Brother partners who seek to back this effort include Wilcon Depot founder and chairman Emeritus William Belo, Aboitiz Equity Ventures President and CEO Sabin Aboitiz, LT Group president and COO Michael Tan, PCCI chairman Emeritus George Barcelon, Fil-Indian Chambers of Commerce chairman Rex Daryanani, and other members of CCCI.
In this time of crisis, it’s very hard to tell how the future will be. The private sector and the government have worked hand-in-hand over the past few months, building a great partnership that is committed to addressing the pandemic. However, without a cure in the pipeline, for now, we have to learn to coexist and live with the virus.
In the end, all our efforts are aimed at giving hope to the people who have lost their jobs and whose businesses are running out of capital. We have to give them a plan. If we don’t put the health situation under control, we will not be able to help people save their jobs and their livelihoods. As many know, numerous companies and MSMEs are facing a tremendous challenge – how to stay afloat during this pandemic.
Cebu and the whole country will definitely rise above this challenge. And we can do it with sound planning and strategy. Aside from tackling the surge of infection rates, we are also facing a huge economic challenge ahead of us. We must plan, work, and move forward with urgency, taking sure but cautious steps. Together with the government as partners, I’m sure we will succeed.