SOME of the country’s largest business groups have expressed their support for the strategy to get at least 40-50 percent of all adults in the National Capital Region and its neighboring provinces vaccinated against COVID-19, as it will allow the country’s battered economy to hopefully fully open up by Christmas this year.
According to data presented recently by the OCTA Research Group to the business groups led by Go Negosyo and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, inoculating at least 40 percent of NCR plus eight key provinces will be enough to achieve “population protection”, at which point damaging surges in cases of COVID-19, and resulting lock downs, can be prevented.
This is because new COVID-19 cases per day will be brought down to just 1,000 for the entire country and 140 new cases per day in NCR as the average daily attack rate will be reduced to less than 1 per 100,000 per day. At this crucial stage, the economy can be fully reopened.
Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder thus again pushed for the pace of vaccination to speed up as the vaccines start arriving this month to immediately open up more sectors of the economy and save more jobs and our micro, small and medium enterprises that are bearing the brunt of mobility restrictions.
Achieving herd immunity, which means vaccinating at least 70 percent of the population, is still the fighting target this year. But given the time and resource constraints, the more viable alternative is to at least vaccinate 40-50 percent of the population in NCR plus 8 provinces in Calabarzon and Central Luzon that together account for more than half of the country’s gross domestic product.
“Those vaccinated then stand to enjoy greater mobility and access. Seniors will be allowed to go out and people will get to travel freely without the need for testing. All this can be triggered if we are able to achieve population protection or inoculation of 40-50 percent of the people in NCR,”he said.
“Then we can have an ‘old normal’ Christmas this year,” Concepcion added.
As the OCTA Research experts noted, in the absence of full herd immunity by the end of the year, containment of or population protection against the COVID-19 disease is the next best goal.
This will free the Philippines from the difficult but necessary quarantine protocols that have nevertheless caused widespread damage to the economy and businesses and led to millions losing their jobs.
Achieving population protection will require about 30 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines in NCR plus eight provinces.
Fr. Nicanor Austriaco of the University of Santo Tomas shared the experience in Israel, where the pandemic has ended.
Austriaco said that once the vaccination level there reached 40-50 percent, there was a significant drop in the number of COVID-19 cases. The same strategy can be applied here with containment or population protection at 40-50 percent, which will bring down the daily average attack rate to less than 1 per 100,000.
“Once we attain 40-50 percent of vaccinations in NCR, five weeks later we will begin to see basically a characteristic drop in daily infections that is typical of containment. Then there will be no more future surges. This will allow us to open the economy,” Austriaco said.
Austriaco also highlighted that the highest number of vaccinations we had so far in a day was 220,000 doses. “So how long will it take for herd immunity – depends on the number of doses per day. We are suggesting 250,000 doses per day that will achieve containment or population protection by October and herd immunity in NCR+8 certainly by Christmas,” Austriaco added.
Concepcion said the target of 40-50 percent vaccination for NCR plus eight is easily achievable especially with the bakuna program of the private sector.
“We are optimistic that the roll out of the vaccines that are coming will be smooth. By working together, the government and the private sector can put the country back on the path to recovery and then to a rebound,” Concepcion said.
PCCI president emeritus George Barcelon shared Concepcion’s view, saying that over the past 15 months, the country has already seen millions of jobs lost and thousands of businesses closed. Thus, the private sector strongly supports a holistic strategy that will allow the economy to open up while minimizing the risk to the public health sector.
“There need not be a trade off between loss of lives and loss of livelihood. We need to have a balance,” Barcelon said, “We submit that this is the only way to go forward.
”The private sector has demonstrated its commitment to the country’s vaccination program by purchasing vaccines for their employees and other shareholders, helping local government units acquire their own supply, while at the same time donating a portion of the life-saving COVID-19 vaccine doses to the government.
With the scheduled arrival of millions more doses of the COVID-19 vaccines from different suppliers within the third quarter, Concepcion is optimistic that the minimum threshold of“population protection” will be achieved, perhaps as early as the end of September, bolstering chances of a very merry Christmas in 2021.
OCTA’s data provide many reasons to be optimistic as the infection rates have been going down, particularly in NCR, the nerve center of the country’s economy.
From an average daily case rate of 5,000 in early April, the number is now down below 1,000 cases a day. The reproduction rate – or the rate at which one person infects others – is also down to below 1, thus significantly lowering the possibility of another surge in COVID-19 cases.
Concepcion also urged the government to consider allowing greater mobility to those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including senior citizens who have had to endure prolonged restrictions since March of last year when the strict quarantine controls were first imposed.
This proposal was welcomed by Eric Teng, head of the Restaurant Owners Association of the Philippines, who said allowing vaccinated senior citizens alone to dine in restaurants will already be a big help to improving their finances that took a severe beating because of the restrictions.
Teng agreed that providing incentives to vaccinated Filipinos, in the form for example of promotional items and discounts, will already contribute a great deal to addressing vaccine hesitancy while at the same time shoring up the bottom line of the battered restaurant sector.
Concepcion added that other possible incentives include allowing fully vaccinated Filipinos tofreely travel without having to secure RT-PCR tests or undergo quarantine. This will, in turn,help breathe life into the equally battered tourism sector.
He stressed that vaccination should be incentivized so that more Filipinos will be encouraged to have themselves vaccinated once the doses become available, a view likewise shared by the experts who said group immunity should be encouraged at every level of society, from families to businesses, barangays, cities, municipalities and then the country.
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