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During my stay in the US, I had a chance to see first-hand how the Americans are handling the transition to normalcy. Early in our visit, vaccination/booster card and face mask mandates were in place. Vaccination cards were then a requirement for entry to establishments, and later on, it was the booster cards that were asked to be presented.
A month into my visit, all business establishments stopped asking for vaccination or booster cards and instead, masks were made optional for those who have been vaccinated, and mandatory for those who are not. The business establishments required only the staff to wear masks.
This did not mean, however, that COVID completely disappeared; we ourselves had a brief brush with infection. I believe that the vaccinations we received had a lot to do with why we were protected during our travels. I think it would be the same for many Filipinos seeing how the Philippines is today in a better place than the rest of its neighbors. Some of our experts think that it is because we, unlike our neighbors, were unable to prevent the entry of the virus and its variants. Of course, it was not done on purpose, but it turned out to be an unexpected grace. We were not early to vaccinate, but we were in the thick of rolling out the vaccinations just as the Delta variant started its rampage. By the time the more contagious, but relatively less deadly Omicron spread, it was to a population that was either vaccinated or already had natural immunity from exposure to earlier variants.
However, our wall of immunity is only as strong as the efficacy of our vaccines, and many will experience waning immunity soon.
I imagine the next few weeks will test how well we are handling our newfound freedoms. There are many challenges ahead, and this is why primary and booster vaccinations must be accelerated. Vaccine efficacy for many of our vaccinated countrymen will start to wane soon, and it will become especially dangerous for those who haven’t had their boosters. Add to this the other factors that might exacerbate the situation. Masks will become a burden now that the temperature is making them more difficult to wear. Rallies and mass gatherings will be more frequent, people will return to workplaces and schools, and normal activities will resume.
Our total of fully vaccinated individuals is currently at 72 percent, but those who have received their booster shots is at only 13 percent. Even in highly vaccinated NCR, boostered individuals accounted for only 30.28 percent. These are not encouraging numbers.
I cannot stress enough the urgency of bringing back the vibrancy of our economy, and this depends on the integrity of our wall of immunity. In the US, I saw how many stores have closed for good; it reminded me of the recession here years before. As people changed their purchasing habits and shifted to digital platforms, it really hit many businesses, especially the brick-and-mortar establishments that did not or could not, conduct their businesses online.
I do hope that after the elections – if cases don’t rise and a new variant does not enter – we will eventually move to the eventual lifting of the state of public health emergency. While Alert Level 1 has helped us move to a much better place, we should start to aspire to a downgraded alert level. But, again, we can only do this if we maintain our wall of immunity, and we can only do that if we booster more aggressively. We cannot hope to return to normal and bounce back unless we strengthen our wall of immunity, and we can only do that if we have fully vaccinated and reinforced those vaccinations with boosters.
Moving forward, we at Go Negosyo saw the need to help our small entrepreneurs move some of their activities online. In May last year, together with the DTI, we had special programs designed to guide them on how to use digital technology in their business. It was well received, and we look forward to doing more of the same in the coming months.
Go Negosyo itself had to quickly move its activities online, and it turned out that the pandemic became an opportunity for us to improve the reach of our existing mentoring programs for entrepreneurs. Our programs relied on face-to-face interactions between the mentors and the entrepreneurs ever since we first launched in 2016. It was a stroke of luck that at some point, we decided to bring the mentoring to the provinces and came up with a mentoring roadshow called Mentor Me On Wheels. When the pandemic broke out, the roadshow went online as a Facebook Live show called Go Negoshow. Eventually, we decided that we have to continue our original mentoring programs, as they were originally intended, through online conferencing platforms and social media. This proved to be the correct decision and paid off quite well.
Throughout the pandemic and even with the restrictions, our mentoring programs were able to produce thousands of graduates and from all the regions across the Philippines. Dedicated coaching became a crucial pivot in our programs, and it enabled us to integrate all three of the Go Negosyo pillars (money, market and mentorship) in a single program.
We realize that there is much to be done, and so we are taking the first step to ease into the new normal. I am happy to share that our Mentor Me On Wheels program will resume its in-person mentoring this April. We have had many success stories from our mentoring programs, some of which I will share in my next column. There is much to be done, and we will begin now. We must Booster to the Max, strengthen our wall of immunity, so we can move on to economic recovery.