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Concepcion: Omicron is a call to prepare, not to panic

The entry of the Omicron variant in the Philippines should not be a cause for panic but rather a reason to prepare. This was the opinion of Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion.

Concepcion said the country needs to vaccinate more people, administer booster shots as recommended by experts, monitor vaccination rates across the country, continue to uphold public health and safety standards, and maintain private and public sector cooperation in order to handle the onslaught of the highly transmissible variant.

“We have the tools and we have the experience that foresight, a proactive stance and cooperation are the winning formula in overcoming COVID-19,” he said.

His viewpoint was shared by experts from OCTA Research, who expressed their insights on the country’s COVID-19 situation during Go Negosyo’s townhall meet, “VAX to the MAX: Preventing the Surge ” last December 15.

During the townhall, OCTA Research fellow Fr. Nic Austriaco said people should not panic since Omicron is coming 20 months after COVID first emerged and when the population already has sufficient defenses against the virus, including vaccines and natural immunity. Healthcare workers also know more about  how to deal with the illness and there are now anti-COVID drugs available.

Concepcion said that foresight will again play a crucial role in how the country will handle Omicron. “When we secured vaccines back in November 2020 and when we locked down in August 2021, these were in anticipation of what would happen in the coming months,” said Concepcion.

He said that a shorter interval between the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and the booster shot may be necessary, as data from South Africa, where the Omicron variant was first reported, is showing that immunity wanes substantially within months of the second dose.

Concepcion and OCTA Research have suggested the administering of booster shots in as short as four months after the second dose, and that the government must prepare to boost all Filipinos by the first or second quarter of 2022 to prevent a massive surge.

“We have the vaccines, and it will be those vaccines that will create that wall of protection,” Concepcion said. Based on several sources tracking the arrival of vaccines in the country, by the end of the year the Philippines will have received close to 200 million vaccine doses, enough to vaccinate every eligible Filipino in the country.

]Experts during the townhall were unanimous in emphasizing the importance of vaccination. “When Omicron arrives, it will find every unvaccinated Filipino,” said Austriaco.

In relation to this, the Go Negosyo initiative VAX to the MAX aims to monitor vaccination rates across the country via a dashboard that identifies where vaccinations are meeting targets and where LGUs need to step up their efforts.

Concepcion explained that the dashboard will help in focusing vaccination drives in cities and first-class municipalities, especially urban areas surrounding international gateways, including all airports and seaports. This is seen to help delay the spread of Omicron and help protect Filipinos in the countryside, many of whom have yet to be vaccinated.

In addition, Concepcion stressed the value of cooperation. “The private sector has pledged to uphold public health standards and safe places in their establishments, and to keep watch and enforce these among their members,” said Concepcion.

“Clearly, we need the private sector, the national government, the local governments and the communities working together to solve this problem,” he said.

“These days we are seeing very low numbers in new COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. We would like to preserve that,” he said. Another surge and further lockdowns, he said. will negatively affect the country’s ability to pay back our debts we incurred to fund the country’s battle against COVID.

“What Omicron teaches us is that variants will continue to be a fact of life with COVID, and we need to always be prepared for it,” he said

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