Our economy needs help, urgently

Published October 5, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Raymundo W. Lo, MD, FPSP


Dr. Raymundo Lo

Last Sept. 27th, a consultative meeting was held by the GoNegosyo with medical experts to seek their opinions on allowing greater mobility for the fully vaccinated in certain areas to open the economy a little bit more. The travel sectors – airlines, hotels and travel destinations, restaurants, cinema operators, salons and spas, gyms and fitness facilities were all represented, and presented their requests for help in saving their operations and their employees’ jobs.

The medical sector was represented by the OCTA experts, Drs. Oscar Tinio (PMA chair), Manuel Dayrit and Esperanza Cabral (former DOH Secretaries), Dr. Lulu Bravo (vaccinology expert and co-convenor of the Doctors for Truth and Public Welfare), Dr. Benny Atienza (PMA president), Dr. Benjamin Co, Minguita Padilla (co-convenor of Doctors for Truth and Public Welfare& GoNegosyo medical lead), and for the Philippine Society of Pathologists Inc. President Robert Padua and yours truly, among others. I beg forgiveness if I forgot some names due to old age.

Presidential adviser Joey Concepcion cited the fully vaccination rate for the NCR will be at 82 percent by Oct. 26 and 90 percent by Dec. 26 which will greatly reduce the hospitalization rate (primarily the unvaccinated). Thus, we can create bubbles among the vaccinated workers and their families, consumers and the transport industry in the NCR without fueling a surge in cases. The earnings will also assist in funding medical needs in the population. The NCR is also responsible for a third or more of gross domestic output, thereby fueling a restart of the economy from the pandemic downturn. The unvaccinated will be protected since they will not have the same mobility as the vaccinated.

The primary call was for giving more mobility and incentives for the fully vaccinated who in turn will be able to patronize more business if measures are more relaxed. For the airline and travel industry, it was to reduce their quarantine period from 10 days to 5, with testing on day 5. This will free up more quarantine facilities and reduce expenses for the travelers. Evidence given was the low rate of testing positivity among international and domestic travelers compared to the general population.

For the gyms, the request was for reclassification from entertainment (???!!!) to sports and wellness or health facilities (as with our Asian neighbors) so that they can open earlier even at a lower percentage in restriction classifications to the fully vaccinated. Evidence presented were the almost zero rate of infections in over 600,000 visits, almost 100 percent vaccination rate among its employees and adherence to US and UK safety protocols for gyms and fitness centers. These have had the worst revenue impacts among the industries. Request was also for more support for their workforce when closed due to lockdowns.

The retail industry, salons and restaurants asked for increased capacity (50 percent) for fully vaccinated persons to sustain operations and not increase the number of establishments closing down for good. A distinction between bars and restaurants was made since the restaurants were being blamed for outbreaks starting from bars violating protocol restrictions.

The cinema industry cited the re-opening of cinemas in other Asian countries from partial to full capacity as well as their use for voter registration and vaccination sites with no outbreaks reported.

On their part, the medical experts were unanimous in supporting the calls of the business sectors for easing restrictions for the fully vaccinated as long as basic health protocols are still observed.

OCTA group member Dr. Guido David predicted a slowing down of the surge in the coming months thus this may allow for more relaxation of measures similar to what India and Indonesia are experiencing. He also said he supports the airlines in easing quarantine measures since international travelers are not significant contributors to infection surges.

Dr. Cabral stated we all need to be ready to live with the virus. Decisions have to be based on evidences and the medical community is willing to help the business sectors in reopening the economy.

Dr. Dayrit stressed that the next two-three months are crucial in ramping up vaccination levels to ease restrictions but agrees to support the business sector in reconsidering restrictions. He mentioned that proper data management is the domain of government which has testing, tracing and vaccination information. All these must be integrated into a readily usable information for planning.

Dr. Lulu Bravo emphasized the need to boost vaccination rates by encouraging more incentives for fully vaccinated persons. She cited the lingering and devastating effects of the Dengvaxia controversy on vaccine confidence which dropped precipitously from 92 percent to 33 percent.

Dr. Leachon supports the business sectors, and advocated ramping up testing and vaccination.

(End of Part I)