Dynamic Covid Rules
The increasing vaccination rate and falling daily Covid-19 cases in the Philippines are clearly the best argument for a substantial reopening of the economy. The world will not totally eradicate the virus but our recent experience in the Philippines, especially with regard to the government’s decision to impose selective instead of widespread lockdowns, has shown that we can live with the virus while reopening the economy at the same time.
The improving Covid situation is serving as the go-signal to adopt more dynamic or flexible health rules that support the reopening. I am confident the easing of quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila from Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 3 starting Saturday and the shorter curfew hours since Wednesday last week will lead to a faster economic recovery.
Allowing business establishments to accommodate up to 50 percent of their capacity, for one, will have an immediate impact on the economy. We should encourage more business establishments to reopen in order to increase the confidence of consumers—the main economic driver.
The reopening will greatly help many small entrepreneurs who have been long sidelined by the pandemic. It is for this reason that I welcome the decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to loosen the restrictions on dine-in restaurants and outdoor activities.
The relaxed guidelines now cover venues for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions, social events such as family reunions, weddings, parties, and tourist attractions such as public gardens, museums, parks plazas, and other scenic viewpoints. Operators of these establishments will now be allowed to operate at a maximum of 30 percent of their indoor capacity for fully vaccinated individuals, and 50 percent of the outdoor venue capacity for individuals regardless of vaccination status.
The looser rules, per the estimate of the Department of Trade and Industry, will add 300,000 workers to the active labor force in Metro Manila and other parts of the country. The DTI figure may still be an underestimate—the reopening of more business establishments will create a multiplier effect on suppliers and service providers.
I am also pleased to learn that the more relaxed rules will benefit our neglected tourism industry, a major job generator. Allowing Department of Tourism-certified hotels to operate at 100-percent capacity and offer staycation activities will be a boost to the industry.
Filipinos who have been cooped up during the long lockdown period can now rejoin the economic recovery. More importantly, the resumption of tourism-related activities in select areas will directly translate into job generation in the sector.
The reopening of the tourism industry is also serving as a vehicle to vaccinate more Filipinos. I agree with the decision of the IATF to require the full vaccination of tourism workers against Covid-19. The same is true with the reopening of movie theaters. Vaccinating all the cinema workers and limiting the moviegoers to the vaccinated public is one way of containing the virus spread and keeping the economy open.
I am optimistic that the further reopening of the economy will not result in an undue increase in Covid-19 cases, as long as local government units enforce minimum public health standards, such as frequent washing of hands, wearing of face masks or face shields, and reasonable social distancing.
Sustaining the vaccination program to cover a greater majority of our population will ensure lower infection rates in the reopened sectors of the economy. We can always calibrate our response in cases of an unusual rise in Covid-19 cases, as we have done in the past. Dynamic health rules, instead of a general lockdown, will help the Philippines contain the virus spread without harming further the economy.
The Philippines has managed to keep daily Covid-19 cases to around 7,000 to 8,000 last week. Metro Manila is now classified as moderate risk after the virus reproduction declined to 0.60, with the health care utilization rate at a “low risk” of 50.92 percent and the intensive care unit occupancy at a “moderate risk” of 66 percent.
The Philippines, as in the case of other nations, cannot completely eliminate Covid-19. But as long as we can perform a strong balancing act however difficult it may be, we will survive and win the battle against the virus.