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Last Monday, I, along with some Cabinet members, had a successful meeting with President Duterte. I would like to thank our President for his immediate approval of the procurement of rapid test kits. This will significantly help contain the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 as we work in tandem with the government to mitigate the spread of the pandemic in the country.
The President did the right thing when he placed Luzon under immediate lockdown as it was an emergency situation. I would like to thank Sen. Bong Go, Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, National Action Plan (NAP) chief implementer Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr., and Sec. Karlo Nograles for their untiring efforts. They have been instrumental in having our initiative approved.
Rapid test kits, I believe, are the game-changer. With the President green lighting the use of the test kits for mass screening, it allows us to detect the presence of IgG and IgM antibodies, and will quickly reveal who had the virus, who never had it, and who have the antibodies after recovering from it. Rapid testing is key to checking the level of spread of the virus within a community. Once screening starts and we are able to collect data, decision-makers and business owners can gain clearer insight on how to develop their internal strategies.
As part of the mitigation plans, the government should also set up a system where inbound travelers (returning OFWs and seafarers, business visitors, tourists, et al) shall be subjected to PCR testing upon arrival. From there, they shall be quarantined until the test results are made available.
As part of the private sector initiative, conglomerates, businesses, and major business organizations that have attended the meetings convened by our office have also agreed to initiate their own mass screenings in their respective companies. These companies will also test the residents of the nearby barangays wherein they operate to measure the level of risk and actual infection within a community, especially in Metro Manila.
All procedures and guidelines of the testing will follow the Department of Health’s protocols, particularly DM 2020-0151, which expands community testing to include both PCR and rapid antibody testing.
In my recommendation to the President, I also highlighted other key steps on how to revive the economy. One of which is shifting from a Luzon-wide lockdown to selective quarantines at the barangay level. This will be implemented after the two-week lockdown extension which ends on April 30. The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) will determine the authorizing body, criteria, and guidelines that will be followed by the local government units in declaring or lifting a lockdown.
Third, following rapid testing and barangay quarantines, is to allow manufacturing and construction to resume. On the manufacturing front, all can operate, especially those that produce high-demand commodities. Construction should also resume as this employs a lot of people. Select industries may continue to operate, albeit with a skeleton work force or with a work-from-home setup.
Additionally, all cargo, especially agriculture products that are being delivered from farm to market, should move freely without passes.
Fourth, after the lockdown, mass gatherings should be kept limited. By the first week of May, malls may start opening gradually, prioritizing tenant stores that have high consumer demand. Should the malls and stores open, they must adhere to social distancing. All employees and mall-goers will not be allowed to enter malls without face masks or face shields.
Fifth is to allow reduced public transport both in Metro Manila and the provincial areas. This is to accommodate the essential workers travelling to and from their homes. They, too, must follow strict guidance. Government-operated transportation such as the MRT and LRT are also recommended to resume operations.
With the economy taking a deep nose dive, it is urgent that we take the necessary steps to revive it. But the question that still lingers today is what weighs more? Life or money? There is no doubt that life is more important. However, without money, how will people eat? How will people buy medicine? How will businesses recover?
I think now is the time that we should really look and plan on how to gradually shift towards reviving the economy because in the end, social amelioration is not sustainable for the long term. Eventually, the negosyo of MSMEs will lack working capital and they will end up closing their business.
We are in a modern-day war, and all our sacrifices and efforts – by the public, the private sector, the government – display our deep love for country. This is ‘bayanihan’ in action. And together, I hope we all win and heal as one.