One of President Duterte’s top economic advisers on Wednesday, Jan. 5, said that the public should “not panic” amid the rising cases of COVID-19 in the country, reiterating his call for alert levels to be guided by healthcare utilization and vaccination rates.
Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion, who is also the founder of Go Negosyo, stated that the only way to open the economy safely is to maintain the health of the public.
“We should be concerned but not panic, and we should move ahead as planned,” he said during the town hall meeting organized by Go Negosyo.
The town hall meeting, entitled “State of COVID in the Philippines: A dialogue on the Omicron and Delta variants: What we can expect, what we can do,” was held on Wednesday and broadcasted over the Go Negosyo Facebook page.
Concepcion was referring to the country’s goal of reaching population protection by vaccinating 55 million of its population by the end of the first week of the new year.
Although case numbers are rising, lockdowns should be based on the health care capacity and the number of vaccinated population.
“Vaccinations will not prevent people from being infected but it will prevent people from getting severe illness and death,” he said, pointing out that vaccines are already available and that the public and private sectors must work together to convince the unvaccinated to get their jabs.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who was also present virtually in the town hall meeting, agreed with Conception.
He said that healthcare utilization should indeed be part of the scorecard.
But while the highly transmissible Omicron variant seems to be milder than the Delta variant, it can also easily overwhelm the health care system if it becomes the dominant variant.
“What we want are early signals and forestall reaching the red line of healthcare utilization,” he said.
The country, he said, must prevent breaching the red line of healthcare utilization, and continue to protect the vulnerable, who are likely to overwhelm the hospitals.
Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Benhur Abalos, who also spoke in the meeting, said that 34.15 percent of the National Capital Region’s (NCR) 95 isolation facilities are already occupied even in this early stage of the uptick in cases.
While home quarantine is being encouraged, the sharp increase in hospital admission was due to the fact that there are more rooms available and people with mild and moderate symptoms want to get admitted in case their symptoms become worse, OCTA Research fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco added.
“It’s important to change our mindset, come to terms that if you are vaccinated and boosted, you should not be terrified. But you should remain prudent and careful. Beds must be reserved for severe and critical cases,” he said.
The officials agreed that the key to moving forward is to push for more vaccinations.
“There’s no change in strategy at all. We continue to focus on vaccination, which is key to moving this pandemic into an endemic,” Concepcion said.
Austriaco maintained that there will be no lockdowns “unless the hospitals are overwhelmed,” noting that while Omicron will lead to higher numbers, these are mostly mild cases with “fewer hospitalizations and deaths.”
NCR and nearby provinces Cavite, Bulacan, and Rizal are once again placed under the stricter Alert Level 3 amid a quick spike in COVID-19 cases shortly after Christmas.