Protect yourself to help the economy

This Holy Week gives us respite and a time to reflect on ourselves. In this time of pandemic, the few days of rest should invigorate us in our daily fight against Covid-19 and provide us the clarity on how to best perform our job and do our share in helping the economy.

A healthy population is our best defense against the pandemic. By staying healthy, we give the economy a fair chance of overcoming the current challenges spawned by Covid-19 and staging a rebound.

The sudden spike of Covid-19 cases in recent days, described by a health expert from the University of the Philippines as the second wave of the disease in the country, shows that all of us should do our part to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities.

Keeping safe from the coronavirus is the best way to avoid a general lockdown. Until we have enough vaccines for 70 million Filipinos, we should patiently wait and protect each other by observing the effective health protocols, such as the minimum 1-meter social distancing, wearing of face masks and face shields in establishments and outdoors, washing hands regularly and disinfecting touch surfaces. Boosting our immune system with nutritious food and vitamins, drinking a lot of water and getting sufficient sleep will complement our defense mechanism against the virus.

These health protocols helped us through the Christmas and New Year holidays without any substantial increase in infections. Active cases during this period dropped below 30,000, giving our hospitals the flexibility to attend to every patient.

What led to the surge in infections in March could be a number of factors. It could be the outbreak of the new variants, complacency or the false hope that the vaccines are now readily available. It would have been convenient for our authorities to simply order a general lockdown to contain the virus spread, but as we all know now those harsh quarantine measures failed to significantly reduce the daily number of cases.

I still believe that an effective enforcement and observance of health protocols by everyone, complemented by contact tracing, massive testing, isolation of Covid-19 patients and, of course, nationwide inoculation will stem the tide.

I welcome the government’s commitment to strengthen the so-called Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat and Recover, or PDITR, strategy while rolling out the vaccination program. It is also important that we begin the vaccination of the population as early as April to save lives and keep the pandemic at bay.

I also strongly support the “granular and calibrated” lockdown of residential blocks. A blanket lockdown or tighter quarantine restrictions might not be necessary or practical at this point.

Placing Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite in a bubble is understandable as these areas have the highest number of cases. Unfortunately, these areas are also the biggest contributors to the economy.

The government believes the “NCR Plus 4 Provinces” bubble will provide hospitals with breathing space and avoid a situation where new cases could no longer be attended to by health-care professionals. Regrettably, active cases topped 100,000 last week.

The good news is that despite the uptick in active cases, the mortality curve of Covid-19 did not climb as fast this month, which means hospitals are able to take care of patients based on lessons they accumulated over the past 12 months.

Metro Manila and the four provinces will remain under the general community quarantine status until April 4. We must make sure that this would be implemented without affecting the mobility of our essential workers and their right to work, contribute to the economy and avail themselves of basic services.

Addressing the pandemic requires the cooperation of everyone. We should remind employees and workers to be extra careful at all times, while allowing them to do their work of supporting the economy and feeding their families. A week of no income for poor families means a week of hunger, and no amount of reasoning from health experts will allay their basic concerns.

Depriving them of work or livelihood opportunity at this crucial period may do more harm as the government already exhausted its resources last year in providing food aid and cash assistance to millions of poor residents.

The revival of the economy equates to bringing back the millions of the unemployed to the labor force. And I agree with the statement of the National Economic and Development Authority that reverting to a stricter and blanket community quarantine is “no longer an option, knowing how much it has cost the Filipino people in the past year.”

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