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Last August, at the height of the Delta surge and with the recommendation of the OCTA group, we pushed for a stricter two-week lockdown. It was quite a sacrifice from the private sector and an unpopular suggestion. But the hope was that the lockdown would slow the spread and allow us to reopen in the last quarter.
Based on OCTA’s prediction, there would be a surge of cases and if we push for the lockdown, we would see positive effects at the start of the fourth quarter. This is what the private sector is looking forward to. Right now, we can validate that the suggestions of OCTA, who are composed of smart experts, were right and it was the better choice at that time.
We are now seeing fewer cases – less than 9,000 a day nationwide in the past two days, and less than 2000 in NCR, – a downward trend overall. Malaysia and Thailand are also experiencing the same deceleration. The only difference is that they have opened their economy, but we are still at very limited capacities
Our friends from OCTA are also confident that, given the increased vaccinations, another surge in cases is unlikely. I am told that the lines at the hospitals are getting shorter and that there are fewer severe cases. While ICUs are still full, projections say that the beds will slowly free up.
Currently we are at alert level 4 and it was extended until end of the week. Businesses were given additional capacity to operate under the revised guidelines, but I feel it is not enough. As cases go down, we need to seize the opportunity to bounce back. We should be at alert level 2 or if the government is hesitant, we can work with alert level 3, with 50 percent capacity. Being allowed at least half capacity will help restaurants and salons cover amortization and salaries. Of course, high-risk indoor capacity will only be allowed for the fully vaccinated.
In my interviews with different news channels, I said that the fourth quarter is critical because this is when consumer spending is high. If we don’t allow more capacity soon and businesses begin 2022 without enough income, it will be harder for them to survive. A lower alert level will allow other business establishments to operate. The cinemas and spas, especially, are losing a lot of money. They are committed to keeping their establishments safe for customers, and I believe that they should at least be given a chance, too.
I also mentioned in my interviews that cinemas are used as vaccination and voter’s registration sites anyway, which means that even the LGUs consider them safe. In other countries in Asia, cinemas are open. I think we need to learn from other countries; otherwise, we will be left behind.
This is especially crucial for cinemas as the Metro Manila Film Festival is fast approaching. Not only is it a venue to promote Filipino films, it also benefits many other businesses and livelihoods, such as the mall-based shops who can earn some income from the increased traffic.
We have to trust the data; we have to believe that the infections are decreasing. Experts are saying it, the global data is showing the drop. We need to push down the alert levels, not later, but now. We need to open up more and increase mobility for the fully vaccinated.
In my last column, I mentioned my last meeting with the President, during which I suggested the granular lockdown approach. I am delighted that we are now using this guideline, specifically in the National Capital Region (NCR). The alert levels system is easier to understand and remember, but I think it can be improved by simplifying the criteria used for determining which alert level to implement. In this way, communities and the business sector will be better equipped to plan and prepare.
Last week, together with OCTA Research, we met with Dr. Alethea de Guzman of the Department of Health to discuss a transparent and more scientific way of identifying alert levels in NCR. We proposed that certain aspects – namely, the number of new COVID-19 cases, hospital and ICU utilization rates, and vaccination rates – should be included in the criteria. Dr. De Guzman, who has been helpful to Go Negosyo – attending our townhalls and explaining the current COVID situation to the private sector, committed to look into our suggestions in the next two weeks and present the idea to the IATF for possible adoption.
After hearing one too many deaths among my friends’ families, every bit of good news and every win goes a long way in countering the negative effects of the pandemic. There is plenty of good news these days.
The NCR is nearing 80 percent vaccination. Last Friday, I was at the airport to receive another batch of AstraZeneca vaccines. Majority of the vaccines will go to LGUs and will help our push for more mobility for the fully vaccinated.
On that same day, we learned that after weeks of meetings and presentations, the IATF decided to shorten the quarantine period for international arrivals. As long as they are fully vaccinated, arriving passengers need to quarantine in a hotel for only five days now. This will cut their hotel expenses in half, and the savings will go a long way for our balikbayans. I know that a lot of OFWs will be encouraged to fly home soon.
This would not have been possible without data. Using flight and passenger information, Philippine Airlines was able to show that infections are less likely with arriving passengers.
Data is also showing that we are headed in the right direction. The data will guide us, and there are statistical tools that will help us see and head off a possible surge. What we cannot do is waste an opportunity. We know enough to approach the situation with caution and vigilance. We know more about how to live with COVID-19 today than we did last year. We may never eliminate the virus in the country, but we can rely on the protection that vaccine provides.