For Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion, the plunge in new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to just 1,591 cases last Nov.3 is vindication for his controversial call for an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila last August.
“When I called for an early lockdown to be implemented in the National Capital Region (NCR) in the first week of August, not everyone was happy. They said it was not the remedy, and that it would cost the economy and result in the loss of jobs,” Concepcion said.
“If we had (not) gone into that lockdown back in August, we would not be looking forward to a Merry Christmas right now,” he said, alluding to huge decline in fresh COVID-19 cases.
It was midyear when COVID-19 cases in the Philippines started to rise, no thanks to the entry of the more contagious Delta variant of the virus.
Concepcion, heeding the advice of experts from OCTA Research, called for the NCR to be put under ECQ--the strictest lockdown protocol. Prior to this, the government was mulling the extension of the less stringent general community quarantine (GCQ) with heightened restrictions for NCR.
“The Philippines then was logging a rolling average upwards of 7,000 cases a day, which went on a steady, upward climb to 10, 12, 14 thousand cases by the start of August. We were admonished not to ‘fixate on the numbers’,” recalled the Go Negosyo founder.
Business groups warned then that locking down would result in billions of pesos being lost and people deprived of employment, with some even going so far as to question the credibility of OCTA Research--an independent and interdisciplinary research group.
Since the beginning of the pandemic last year, OCTA Research has been providing analysis and projections of COVID cases based on government-supplied data. Concepcion defended OCTA Research, saying they have proven themselves when it came to data analytics, and cited their projections when he stood his ground and called for an ECQ in the metropolis.
Concepcion explained that sacrificing the first two weeks of August to the ECQ would save the critical fourth quarter of the year, or when consumer spending is expected to reach its peak because of the Christmas season. Add to this the upcoming elections in May 2022.
He said that paving a clear path for business would also build confidence among banks, which can then start lending out money or even restructuring loans for businesses.
Concepcion found allies in the NCR mayors, who joined amplified his ECQ call. “The NCR mayors knew the situation on the ground and the consequences of not acting swiftly. They came on board, and it was enough to convince the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) to put NCR under ECQ in the first two weeks of August,” he said.
As predicted, COVID cases reached upwards of 20,000 new cases several times in late August and early September. But in October, cases suddenly went on a steep decline, eventually ending in levels not seen since before the Delta variant's arrival in the country.
Last Wednesday’s tally of 1,591 COVID cases was accompanied months-low numbers in active infections and hospital intensive care unit (ICU) utilization rates.
“So, yes, I feel vindicated,” said Concepcion.
“The decision to lock down in early August was counterintuitive. By nature, all businessmen must be for taking every opportunity to do business. Any event that prevents him from doing so must be considered a loss and resisted at all costs. But real life tells us that the way forward is not always a straight line. Sometimes you have to double back in order to go forward and move even farther than you would have had you stayed stubborn and insisted on forcing your way in that straight line,” he explained.
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, Concepcion worked to create visibility of cases through testing, which then was quite costly due to the demand in test kits. He then advocated for "Bakuna Bubbles", where fully vaccinated individuals are granted more mobility to help sustain economic activity. However, this was viewed by some sectors as discriminatory.
Concepcion has now set his sights on raising vaccination levels in the provinces, where vaccine hesitancy remains high.
“Vaccines work. They protect people from severe infections and hospitalizations. Even if the number of infections starts going up, if the LGU (local government unit) has vaccinated 70 percent or more of its citizens, there will be no need to worry that there will be another lockdown. While we cannot increase hospital capacity, we can decrease the number of people needing to go to the hospital,” he said.
“We must have a common goal. I believe the only way we can fully open up the economy is to vax to the max. Vaccinate as many people as we can, as fast as we can,” he further said.