Ex-DOH chiefs Cabral, Dayrit share Concepcion's vision of reopening economy safely

Two former secretaries of the Department of Health (DOH)--Dr. Esperanza Cabral and Dr. Manuel Dayrit--have expressed support for the business sector’s call to ramp up vaccination as a way to protect the citizenry while allowing more mobility for vaccinated individuals to sustain the economy.

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion (Photo from Go Negosyo Facebook page)

Cabral and Dayrit were led the participants of a dialogue between medical experts and the business sector was held last Sept. 27. The event was facilitated by Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion.

“We need to open the economy and move to at least Alert Level 3 this fourth quarter. The last quarter is when consumers spend a lot of money. This can be done for areas with high vaccination, or around 80 percent,” Concepcion said.

Metro Manila is currently under Alert Level 4 under the pilot Alert Level System (ALS) scheme against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The pilot period ends after Sept. 30.

Cabral said during the dialogue that learning how to live with COVID-19 is the best way to keep the economy alive. “This is the time to live with COVID. It is important that we have an economy if we are to live with COVID,” she said.

Dayrit, on the other hand, said the national government’s alert levels or quarantine restrictions must be in accordance with the country’s vaccination levels. “The alert levels or the quarantine restrictions must be in accordance with vaccination levels already,” said Dayrit, a former Dean of Ateneo de Manila University School of Medicine and Public Health.

Experts and the government have noted the encouraging indicators in the Philippines’s COVID-19 situation.

OCTA Research Group fellow Dr. Guido David reported a decline in the reproduction growth level of COVID-19 cases in various regions in the country. The research group expects the reproduction number and other indicators - such as ADAR (average daily attack rate), ICU utilization, and positivity rate - to improve in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Meanwhile, Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Benhur Abalos reported that as of Sept. 27, the National Capital Region (NCR) has over 7.1 million fully vaccinated individuals, representing 72.65 percent of the target population.

Concepcion had earlier called for more mobility and less restrictions for fully vaccinated individuals under the proposed "Bakuna Bubble" scheme. The proposal is meant to protect unvaccinated individuals while at the same time mobilizing the fully vaccinated to safely reopen the economy.

The proposal received support from the doctors present during the dialogue, as well as from over a thousand business owners, franchisees, and executives from various sectors and industries.

Philippine Medical Association President Dr. Benito Atienza reiterated their position of being "pro–people, pro–life and, pro–economic recovery". He also encouraged the vaccination of pregnant women and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) residing in provinces.

“By pushing for privileges for the vaccinated, then we can allow people to really appreciate the value of vaccines aside from protection from COVID,” said Dr. Lulu Bravo, Committee Chairperson of the National Adverse Events Following Immunization and Pediatric Infectious and Tropical Diseases Professor at University of the Philippines (UP) Manila.

Dr. Raymundo Lo, head of the Philippine Children's Medical Center’s COVID-19 testing, said that ramping up vaccination is the only way to encourage more people to get vaccinated. He added that having several privileges for the fully vaccinated will also help entice unvaccinated persons to get shots against COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Dr. Minguita Padilla, President and Chair OF Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines, addressed concerns that the proposal discriminates against the unvaccinated, saying, “It is not discrimination since the unvaccinated have the choice. Discrimination occurs when there is not choice for them.”

During the dialogue, the medical experts batted for intensified testing, contact tracing, and vaccination rollouts, especially on senior citizens, OFWs, and pregnant women.

“OFWs can be given less quarantine restrictions since most of them are already fully vaccinated,” infectious disease expert Dr. Benjamin Co said.

Other incentives were also put forward by airline industry representatives during the dialogue. These include the reduction of quarantine periods, allowing passengers to quarantine from the comfort of their homes, and presenting vaccination cards in place of reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests.

Stakeholders also called for the creation of a unified data recording system from the government to analyze data and to have a unified protocol of restrictions for local government units (LGUs).

Concepcion, for his part, thanked the medical community’s support for safe economic reopening. He then asked members of the medical groups to help amplify the message of granting mobility for the vaccinated and convince the government to bring down the quarantine levels.

“Now is the time to join forces with the private sector as we reopen the economy. We are willing to listen to your recommendations to do this safely and if we do this in unity, we will be able to succeed,” Concepcion stressed.