As the new daily COVID-19 infections reached the 20,000 mark, Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez said that the government was preparing to introduce a new approach to pandemic containment. He said that four levels of quarantine restrictions will be enforced nationwide starting Sept. 8, after the last day of the current modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) in Metro Manila.
The important change is that only the “hot spot” areas in which high levels of transmission persist are placed under hard or granular lockdown. Hence, only pockets of the population, say, within several blocks, or a barangay, or a subdivision, would be restricted. This would be in contrast to the current system in which an entire region is covered by uniform quarantine restrictions.
Establishments may be allowed to operate at 20-30-or 50 percent capacity, depending on the quarantine level. Under this new system more establishments can reopen and more workers can return to work.
Health and safety protocols on masking, physical distancing, and proper ventilation will continue to be enforced. On mobility of authorized persons outside residence (APOR), the guidelines are still being discussed, including provision by employers of lodging arrangements for workers.
The concept of granular lockdown is not new; it has been imposed in limited areas to arrest high levels of infection. What is being prepared is fine-tuned implementation for enhanced efficacy. Recall that a year ago, after a few months of quarantine, “learning to dance with the virus” emerged as an imperative, given the harsh impact of strict lockdowns in terms of massive loss of jobs. Not even the provision of ‘ayuda’ as mandated by two Bayanihan laws enacted by Congress could provide sufficient social safety nets as the poorest families experienced involuntary hunger.
Meanwhile, the government’s massive vaccination program rolls on. Latest data shows that 34.1 million vaccine doses have been administered, and 14.1 million or 13.1 percent have been fully vaccinated. This is still a far cry even from the reduced target of 50 percent that is now projected to be attained within the first quarter of 2022.
Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Jose Concepcion III has anchored a proposal for increased mobility and revitalized business operations on the concept of ‘bakuna bubbles’ in areas like Metro Manila where the vaccination level is about 45 percent. Workplaces and business establishments have been ramping up vaccination levels of their employees and gearing up to accommodate vaccinated customers. The Department of Information Communication Technology (DICT) is doing a soft rollout of the National Digital Vaccine Certificate or VaxCertPH on Sept. 6, a development that would facilitate mobility of all fully vaccinated Filipinos, including overseas Filipino workers.
As the highly transmissible Delta variant is tagged as the culprit for the still-high 1.39 viral reproduction rate in Metro Manila, the call for improved testing and better contact tracing continues. There is still no substitute for prevention through early detection and treatment. After one and a half years, it’s high time for leveling up our ability to contain the coronavirus contagion.