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Private sector, medical experts explore safe exit strategies at Go Negosyo Townhall

A safe exit is possible, and the private sector and individual citizens will play a big role in it. This was the opinion of medical and data experts, public officials and representatives of the private sector at the recent Go Negosyo townhall meeting “Exploring a Safe Exit”, held online last Feb. 24.

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion said that reopening the economy has now become even more urgent, as the country has stepped into a critical level in its debt-to-GDP ratio. The war in the Ukraine has also driven up commodity prices worldwide and is expected to have an immediate effect as the local economy opens. “We have to restore confidence so that Filipinos will go out and have more mobility,” said the Go Negosyo founder.

During the townhall, Concepcion emphasized the importance of schools and offices. “We want to see more activity here,” he said. “I think we should start to encourage people to start going back to the offices and schools,” he said.

“A lot of our informal sector really depends on the formal sector going back to work,” said National Economic and Development Authority Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon. “We need a whole-of-society approach,” she said.

“We have to instill confidence and convey the right message that we are on the right track, and that if we work together, we can really exit,” she said. The NEDA is currently putting together Phase 5 of its National Action Plan for the exit of the Philippines from the pandemic.

Crucial to this exit is vaccinations. Several challenges still hound vaccinations in the Philippines. Department of Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje said these include low vaccine demand, low booster uptake, brand discrimination, and operations fatigue among health workers. She shared that they are now re-calibrating their vaccination strategy to bring vaccinations closer to the people.

It is this vaccination gap, said Epimetrics’ Dr. John Wong, that is now hampering vaccinations in the country, specifically the distribution and administration of vaccines, long waiting lines, inability to get an appointment, and physical limitations for the elderly. Sec. Cabotaje revealed that the next National Vaccination Day this March will focus mainly on the A2 category, or seniors and those with comorbidities.

Philippine College of Physicians President Dr. Maricar Limpin, meanwhile, said that a safe exit would depend on how Filipinos will continue to observe public health standards. She said the private sector must help prepare their spaces to ensure that the public will be provided safe conditions, such as continued distancing in public transport, and for work spaces, better ventilation and staggered work hours or the continuation of work-from-home arrangements for some workers. Ventilation emerged as the primary factor in the safe reopening of business.

Other factors, however, are posing a challenge to the private sector as the economy reopens.

Clear and simplified guidelines are needed by the education sector and the live entertainment and recreation sector. The transport sector, meanwhile, is still contending with LTFRB limitations on interzonal travel that are now driving up transport costs and encouraging illegal operators, effectively preventing mobility between the capital region and the provinces. The personal services sector, meanwhile, has to contend with changes in people’s behavior as they remain apprehensive about going to gyms, spas and salons.

On COVID cases update, experts from OCTA Research continue to see low risks for the country. “We are projecting almost all indicators to be very low,” said Dr. Guido David. “Only new variants may change this, but right now, no variants are seen,” he said. “The situation is definitely improving.” Prof. Ranjit Rye said that if these trends hold, the country is looking at good forecasts until May.

Rye and other experts are now seeing a shift from government control of the pandemic to personal responsibility. “On our way to Level 1, what we do as citizens will be more important than what the government has done in sustaining this downward trend,” said Rye.

“We need to move from fear to responsibility,” said OCTA’s Fr. Nicanor Austriaco. “The idea is to de-escalate and encourage people to go out,” he said. Fr. Austriaco sees a gradual easing of protocols, going from reducing physical distancing, to removing mask requirements for outdoor situations and for non-customer facing work, and eventual removal of masks for employees, except when it serves to make them feel safe.

The collaboration between private and public sector was emphasized during the townhall
“What we really learned from the pandemic is that planning, and foresight really made the difference for us,” said Concepcion.


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