For Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion, the Philippines is the safest place for migrant Filipinos, including overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), to spend their Christmas in given recent victories against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“Our kababayans should spend Christmas at home, not in a foreign land and definitely not at a quarantine facility,” Concepcion said in a statement Monday, Dec. 6.
The Palace official based his statement on the Philippines’ improved COVID-19 situation, wherein the average daily new cases of the illness is now among the lowest in the world. He also said that the Philippines is not likely to experience a surge in cases this last quarter.
Concepcion appealed to the Department of Health (DOH) to revert to the three-day facility quarantine requirement before Dec. 15 as it would mean returning Filipinos who test negative for the virus can be released from quarantine in time to celebrate Christmas with their families on Dec. 25.
This, as daily new cases in the entire country continue to number only in the hundreds, and all other indicators–except intensive care unit (ICU) utilization, which is still showing the effects of the August-September Delta variant surge–remaining low.
“I personally think the risk is low since we will require PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests to be done 72 hours before departure and then again upon arrival, and then three days stay in quarantine. This should be time enough; in all, it will be a total of six days already,” Concepcion explained.
Confirmed daily cases in the Philippines are one of the lowest in the world. As of Dec. 4, The Philippines has 4.01 daily cases per million people, compared with 364.77 in the United States (US), 658 in the United Kingdom (UK), and 183.97 in Singapore.
The strategies that were employed in the past worked, said Concepcion, including the decision to prioritize the National Capital Region (NCR) in terms of vaccinations, as well as the lockdown in August. “Looking at the numbers, it is clear that we are on safe grounds right now,” he said.
Closing down the borders is the first in the country’s four-door policy, which includes fortifying the areas surrounding the major entry points. The NCR hosts the country’s biggest and busiest airport, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
The NCR was also the focus of Concepcion’s “Bakuna Bubble” strategy, wherein only fully vaccinated individuals were granted mobility in areas considered high risk.
The private sector is banking on its performance in the traditionally strong fourth quarter to recoup losses after over a year of lockdowns.
OCTA Research echoed Concepcion’s positive remarks on the COVID-19 situation during an online forum organized by Cardinal Santos Medical Center. “This is the best shape that the Philippines has been since before the first wave,” said OCTA Research Fellow Fr. Nick Austriaco.
“It is very different now. We have substantial immunity, our hospitals are much better equipped, the health care workers are more experienced in how to deal with COVID. We are at the best place right now in the [last] 20 months,” he noted.
Austriaco also said that the chances of experiencing a rise in cases in the last part of 2021 are low, and that people should not panic.
“The chances of a surge happening between now and Christmas is very small. I think we can be assured of a relatively healthy, pandemic new normal Christmas. I don’t think we appreciate the low numbers we are experiencing,” he said, adding that if there was to be a new surge, it will be in the first quarter of 2022 and that even then, it is hardly going to be a repeat of the past surges.
Austriaco explained that the Philippines may have achieved significant natural- and vaccine-induced immunity. He also pointed out that South Korea and Vietnam, unlike the Philippines, have never experienced the Alpha and Beta surges and are now experiencing surges because of the Delta variant.
The Philippines has also maintained its mask mandates and controlled enforcement of quarantine measures.
Nevertheless, Concepcion and OCTA Research said the country cannot let its guard down. “The country should focus on what works, namely vaccination, testing, tracing, isolation, and observing minimum public health standards. The worst we can do is to be overconfident,” said OCTA Research fellow Prof. Ranjit Rye.
“Can we handle another lockdown? Definitely not,” Concepcion said, adding that many microentrepreneurs are already severely affected by the lockdowns. He said the Philippines has already incurred trillions in debt due to COVID-19 spending and that a lockdown would further impede the flow of revenues necessary to pay back that debt and keep the country in good economic standing.
As for the new Omicron variant of COVID-19, Concepcion also agreed with experts’ call for more data via better genetic surveillance so that the extent of differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals on transmission, severity of infections, and hospitalization can monitored better.
“When Omicron is better understood, then we can take a more aggressive stance. We will not act irresponsibly, we are after a safe opening of the economy,” said Concepcion.