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With the Philippines classified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) under the lowest travel-risk classification, the country should now lift the state of public health emergency. This was the suggestion of Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion, saying, “Lifting the state of public health emergency would promote confidence among the population.” Doing so will also lift the alert levels that have been the basis of mobility and capacity restrictions, and are based on vaccination rates and healthcare utilization rates.
Just recently, the Philippines was placed under the lowest travel-risk warning classification by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the CDC, the Philippines is now in a Level 1 travel risk classification, considered the lowest risk classification reserved for countries that have 49 or fewer new cases per 100,000 residents over the last 28 days.
“It would be just the right time as all over the world, economies are starting to resume normal activity,” Concepcion said. He said even countries like Australia, Singapore, Canada, the UK, Spain and Italy – which are on CDC’s Level 3, or high-risk category – are not under a state of public health emergency.
“We should focus on job creation, opening up all areas, resuming in-person classes, and encouraging people to go back to work,” he said.
Concepcion believes that Filipinos can already make informed decisions on how to keep themselves safe from Covid and prevent infecting others. He cited an OCTA Research study conducted last March which found that a majority of Filipinos will continue to wear face masks even after Covid has been brought under control, with a third even considering wearing it for a year longer.
“I think wearing of face masks outdoors should now be optional, but it should remain mandatory in indoor situations especially in public transport,” he said.
OCTA Research fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco agreed with Concepcion, saying that an increasing number of studies are showing that “wearing an N-95 mask after you are vaccinated and boosted will protect you from getting COVID-19 even if everyone else around you is not wearing a mask. This should reassure the Filipino people that they can protect themselves even as our society begins to relax the outdoor and even indoor mask wearing requirement as other countries have done,” he said.
Public health advocate Dr. Tony Leachon agreed, saying, “People are now aware of how to keep themselves safe, but we must continue reminding them.”
“We should strictly implement health protocols without the lockdowns,” said Vaccine Expert Panel member and infectious disease expert Dr. Rontgene Solante. He also observed that despite the slight rise in Covid cases, most are mild and do not require hospitalization.
Dr. Solante and Dr. Maricar Limpin, president of the Philippine College of Physicians, believe that as the country moves forward from the pandemic, it should take steps to improve its health infrastructure, specifically in strengthening intervention on emerging and re-emerging infections. “We need to improve our capacity and this will mean putting sufficient investment in it,” said Dr. Limpin.
Other policy changes have also signaled that the country is slowly easing out of restrictions. Incoming tourists now no longer need a Covid test as long as they have at least one booster vaccination.
“Because this will not be our final pandemic, we should work on refining our public health warning system,” Concepcion said. He suggested an alert level system that is based on healthcare and ICU bed utilization rates, rather than on infection rates. He had earlier suggested a public health warning system that would be similar to typhoon alert warning systems.
Concepcion said vaccinations and boosters should continue, and would even be better if second boosters can be expanded to include those 50 years or older. Government can also recalibrate future vaccine purchases based on the takeup of Covid vaccines during the mass vaccinations.
“We should find ways to move past this pandemic with innovative and highly adaptable health systems, surveillance and diagnostics. That will be the challenge of the next administration,” said Solante.