An anniversary is usually a cause for celebration. Not this one. A year ago this week, the country went into enhanced community quarantine and a lockdown. One year down the road, we are all feeling like we are back to square one.
Where are we now and what should we do about it? Cases, positivity rates, and hospital bed occupancy are all up. On March 19, the country had 7,103 new cases—the highest number we’ve ever recorded. More concerning is that the recovery rate has dropped from over 90 percent to 86.7 percent. Fortunately, the mortality rate has remained at 1.99 percent, thus indicating that the number of active cases has risen to 11.3 percent (when it used to be below 10 percent). Also of some concern is that the positivity rate (i.e., the number who test positive as a percentage of tests taken per day) has risen to 15 percent versus just 5.1 percent in mid-February.
The National Capital Region is especially critical. Metro Manila has seen a 140-percent spike in new cases in the last two weeks and accounts for 49 percent of all new cases in the country. It also accounts for 36.5 percent of all active cases nationwide. Hospital bed capacity in at least six cities in Metro Manila is in critically short supply, and a number of hospitals have announced that they are not able to admit COVID-19 patients as they have run out of space. The positivity rate in Metro Manila is 13.2 percent.
In a series of meetings between the private sector and various government agencies, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and the Metro Manila mayors, and within Task Force T3 (Test, Trace, Treat), we discussed several things that might be done to address this spike in cases.
First, better compliance with minimum public health safety standards. People may be tired of hearing the instructions, but following the minimum safety standards is effective—in fact, about 95 percent effective when properly followed. In short, wear a mask face (properly) and face shield, practice social distancing, and frequently wash hands (again, properly). Stay away from crowded, poorly ventilated places. Make sure your homes and workplaces are well-ventilated. Don’t even hold large family gatherings at home because COVID-19 can spread there, too. Limit the numbers. Don’t take chances, because the new variants are far more transmissible than the original.
Second, allow the private sector to vaccinate their economic frontliners quickly. With the arrival of the first 1.1 million vaccines, government started vaccinating the priority health frontliner population on March 1. An additional 2.38 million doses are expected to be delivered next week, while another 4 million will come in April. That will be enough to complete the health frontliner vaccinations and get a start on senior citizens. When private sector deliveries start in May, it makes sense to let them inoculate their employees at the same time as seniors (rather than sequentially). This will both speed up pace and reduce any potential for wastage.
Third, let’s engage private hospitals more for the vaccination campaign. It’s good to see some private hospitals participate in the initial rollout of Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines delivered in March. They will be able to make a big contribution to the inoculation pace since there are actually more private hospitals than there are public ones. They can, for instance, start by vaccinating private sector workers, since the private sector has procured enough vaccines to cover several million workers who need to get back to work to restart the economy.
Fourth, the private sector should gear up for their deliveries. Private sector-procured vaccines are expected to start arriving by May. They should survey their employees (many have started already) to collate their views on vaccines and start contracting private hospitals to be their vaccination service providers. Public hospitals already have their hands full handling the general public.
We need to move with more pace and sense of urgency, or we might find ourselves marking a second bad anniversary next year.
Guillermo M. Luz is chief resilience officer of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (www.pdrf.org).
Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).
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