Of Trees and Forest

Former Senate President Manny Villar

In my column last week, I talked about several innovations we introduced in order to adapt to the changing retail experience brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. From self-checkout kiosks that minimize physical contact between staff and consumers to online shopping platforms to cater to those who prefer to stay home, we have attempted to strike a balance between reviving the economy and keeping our people safe.

But in addition to these innovations and strictly enforcing health protocols in our businesses, inoculating our employees is still the most effective way to protect our people even as they continue to work for their families and, in effect, heroically resuscitating economic activities in our country.

We need to battle the coronavirus on multiple fronts: implementing health protocols, improved testing, contact tracing and isolation, and ensuring that we have enough supply of vaccines so we can protect more people. This is the reason why I continue to urge government to make it easier for the private sector to purchase their own supply of the vaccines. Businesses have both the incentive and the capacity to vaccinate as many employees in the fastest way possible.

Here at the Villar Group, almost 90 percent of our essential workers at Vista Mall and Starmall stores nationwide have been vaccinated as part of our effort to protect our employees and customers. We have acquired AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines for our workers. Many of them are our front liners—cashiers, sales staff, managers, security guards, and other essential workers. This is part of our VHealthy campaign aimed at ensuring the protection of our economic front liners and our customers. I have always encouraged our employees, and in fact, the public, to get vaccinated. This is the best way to begin the process of economic recovery even as we continue to fight the coronavirus.

Our VHealthy campaign also includes webinars aimed at educating our workers and staff members on the impact of the COVID-19 virus to one’s health and the importance of getting vaccinated. With so many misinformation and disinformation out there, we thought this would be very helpful to our employees. The program provides regular free swab tests to our workforce, especially those who are directly dealing with customers. We have also provided assistance to some employees who were infected with the virus.

I know that other companies, big and small, have also been working doubly hard to vaccinate their employees. Businesses understand the need to protect their workers so they can continue providing services and products without sacrificing their health and that of their families. We know that this is key to making sure that the recalibrated granular lockdown strategy of government will succeed. We all want government to succeed in its approach because their success means we can now begin the process of returning to the “new normal,” sketching out the details of what it means to “live with the virus”.

This is the reason why I fully support the transition to reopening many businesses based on new alert levels and a more granular approach to lockdowns. Total lockdown just doesn’t make sense in addition to being more damaging to the economy in the long run. Allowing restaurants, for instance, to reopen indoor dining to vaccinated guests is a step in the right direction and has the added effect of encouraging more people to get their jabs.

Businesses understand it’s not just about reopening to the public. We know we have to protect our workers and our customers. We will not sacrifice their well-being for profit. This is the reason why businesses have spent many of their resources to making sure they are protected. This on top of the financial losses businesses suffered because of the hard lockdowns.

I am glad to see many establishments reopen on a limited basis. I hope that as the COVID-19 situation improves and the vaccination rate in the country increases, we can allow more to get back in business, safely.