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As the business community bids goodbye to the last few days of September, I dedicated the final week of the third quarter to push for the opening of the economy while protecting our most vulnerable kababayans, the unvaccinated. Last Monday, we organized a dialogue between the business sector and some of the countries’ medical professionals and experts. We presented a collective call from different industries to grant greater mobility for the fully vaccinated, not only for the sake of our economy, but to also protect the unvaccinated from contracting COVID-19.
During the dialogue, various stakeholders from the business community emphasized the urgency of increasing the operational capacity of business establishments to allow persons who are already inoculated. For airlines, it’s reducing quarantine periods and presenting vaccination cards in place of RT-PCR tests. The last quarter of the year presents a great opportunity for all businesses to recover from months of losses, but they cannot do that if they remain closed or with limited operations.
In an interview by news anchor Mimi Ong last Tuesday, I shared my thoughts on the status of several businesses and entrepreneurs during the implementation of the new COVID-19 alert level system in Metro Manila. I said that this time, there is more clarity and it is easier to understand the current guidelines. With the new alert level system, we can focus on high-risk areas instead of crippling an entire city or province. We have seen a slowdown in the number of COVID-19 cases and this is, indeed, good news for everyone.
I also shared that it is important that the IATF has heard our call to open our economy for the fully vaccinated. Under Alert Level 4, businesses that are open can allow only fully vaccinated individuals to avail of indoor services. However, gyms and other health and wellness centers remain closed. Gym operators have told me of their concerns, and I believe that allowing their operations will benefit people’s health, so I immediately endorsed them to DTI Secretary Mon Lopez so that they may be allowed to provide services for clients. Exercise, after all, is very important to improve immunity during the pandemic.
I also told Mimi that one of the key points I included in my recent letter to the IATF is to only allow the fully vaccinated to enter high-risk establishments in areas, regardless of alert levels – except for Level 1, which of course means there is no more risk. Only under Alert Level 4 are the unvaccinated not allowed to go out and enter high-risk business establishments. I believe this should be the case under Alert Levels 3 and 2 because the unvaccinated are at greatest risk of infection.
If we want to open the economy, we have to do it safely. We do not want another lockdown. Our call in the previous months for an early lockdown was not expected of the private sector. In fact, not everyone agreed with the move, but I believe that we did the right thing by following the recommendations of the OCTA Research Group. As we enter October, we can see that the cases are already going down and we can expect to transition to Alert Level 3 as we enter the fourth quarter.
Mimi also asked me for my thoughts about hard lockdowns and if such are already over for the country. I told her that it might really be the case because the vaccines are arriving and being rolled out successfully. A huge vaccine supply is expected to arrive in the coming months. In NCR, we are already approaching close to 80 percent vaccination of the eligible population, and that is an accomplishment. With the high rate of vaccinations, I believe we can safely move to Alert Level 3 and that the IATF will consider my suggestion to increase capacity up to 50 percent for businesses, but only for the fully vaccinated. In high-risk establishments, we can maintain the current operational capacity of up to 30 percent to ensure everyone’s safety.
I hope that in the final months of 2021, COVID-19 infections, reproduction rates, and other indicators will go down so we can move to Alert Level 2 towards Christmas and start the recovery period for our entrepreneurs.
Mimi also asked me about our proposals being discriminatory against the unvaccinated. I told her that the principle behind protecting the unvaccinated is focused on high-risk establishments only, such as dine-in services in restaurants, gyms, salons, and similarly high-risk areas. The unvaccinated can freely visit other areas like outdoor dining areas, parks, malls, and supermarkets, and other places with bigger spaces and better ventilation.
Our proposal is to reopen the economy safely; mobility for the vaccinated is the most suitable option. This is not new; it is actually the norm and we need to keep up with the rest of the world or we will suffer further economic losses. If we cannot help MSMEs recover through those proposed measures, then it will be even more challenging if we miss the crucial window afforded by fourth quarter consumer spending. Potential sales from the fourth quarter will help businesses pay off their business loans and other financial obligations, including their employees’ 13th month pay.
We have to explore and do anything right now to save our MSMEs from collapsing. Hard lockdowns do not help, as the end to this pandemic is still unclear. We are now on survival mode and we need to count on the fully vaccinated members of our communities as we try to resume economic activity. Even if they get infected, they are protected from possible severe cases, so we can safely grant them mobility. Vaccines are becoming more available and soon, the unvaccinated can get their jabs and they, too, can freely move around.
I welcome October with so much optimism and hope that we can finally reap some of the benefits from the gradual reopening of our economy in this last quarter. I know that the business community feels the same way. As long as we protect the unvaccinated, we can look forward to healthier Filipinos and healthier businesses.