Saving people and businesses is not discrimination

GO NEGOSYO PILIPINAS ANGAT LAHAT! - Joey Concepcion - The Philippine Star

During an interview by broadcaster and anchor Karen Davila last Friday, I was given a chance to elaborate further on the innovative ideas that I have been pushing for quite some time now on how to approach the current COVID-19 situation, with economic survival and job protection in mind. When asked about my view on the granular lockdown that was set to be implemented by the national government starting Sept. 16 in the National Capital Region (NCR), I told Karen that this should go hand in hand with the Bakuna bubble that we are proposing as a means to save the economy. Latest data shows that unvaccinated persons are the ones filling up the hospitals, while cases of “breakthrough infections” or fully vaccinated persons acquiring COVID-19 are few and very far between. For this reason, Metro Manila Mayors have asked the IATF to allow more mobility and give more leeway to the vaccinated to help jumpstart the economy.

As to the question of who should be given more mobility in various establishments, especially the high-risk ones, I maintained that only the vaccinated ones should be given this privilege since they are already protected against COVID-19. This proposal has been opposed by some groups, claiming that this is discriminatory. Personally, I think it is far from being discriminatory since we have to protect those who don’t have the necessary protection against COVID-19. It doesn’t matter if you receive Sinovac, Astra Zeneca, Moderna, or Pfizer. The important thing is you are protected against severe COVID-19 infection. This is proven, not just in the Philippines, but everywhere in the world. In Cebu City, they now allow the fully vaccinated to enter various establishments. This should be the case. We cannot allow the unvaccinated to be an obstacle to the mobility of the fully vaccinated. My suggestion is not tantamount to discrimination as my only goal is to protect the unvaccinated until they get inoculated. One of these days, they will get a chance to receive much-needed protection against the virus with a steady stream of vaccines, with about 40 million doses expected this month.

In response to Karen’s question on how businesses plan to fight discrimination claims by certain individuals over issues of limiting their rights, I told her that businesses are also facing discrimination as they close their stores and go bankrupt. Those engaged in businesses have incurred loans and have salaries and rents to pay, and restricting them is also tantamount to discrimination. We cannot restrict them forever. Doing so will only make our country suffer even more as the government’s coffers are already depleted and they cannot provide financial assistance to local government units in need.

With businesses closed, the national government will eventually go bankrupt. Where are we going to get all the revenues for the businesses to pay taxes on? How do we save both lives and livelihoods? Let us look at the problem. The unvaccinated have to be vaccinated. Yes, there are supply shortages, but we are only talking about NCR where the supply is currently being prioritized. Sixty percent of individuals in the NCR are now fully vaccinated and we could reach 80 percent in the subsequent months. The arrival of various variants, such as the dreaded Delta variant, has resulted in a huge setback to the government’s goal of achieving herd immunity this year. It doesn’t mean that vaccines will provide enough protection as they still prevent individuals from contracting severe infections that could lead to death.

We have to face the fact that even though people are vaccinated, they can still get infected, but it will only be mild and recovery is fast. This pandemic has put us all in a very difficult situation, but we can see that the government is doing everything it can to help us live with the virus. The government is open to the proposal of allowing more mobility to the vaccinated. There’s no other way around. The only way to safely reopen the economy is to let the vaccinated out and let them spend. If they get sick, it would be less worry for the government because they are protected and it will not be an additional burden to our hospital system.

Karen also asked my opinion about the possibility of reopening the economy in the last quarter of the year. Clearly, we cannot afford another lockdown in the fourth quarter of the year. Many companies have already closed shop and many will follow suit if we implement another lockdown during the Christmas season. It could spell doom for our economy and many people will spend a sad Christmas, rather than with smile on their face. We are doing our very best to avoid that scenario. At the same time, we are motivating Filipinos so that all of us can live and survive with the virus.

To get the side of the employers, Karen spoke to Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) president Sergio Ortiz Luis midway through the interview. Sergio, for his part, maintained that it might not be favorable for businesses to open just for a small number of vaccinated customers. The dilemma is if you let the unvaccinated go out, they could get severe COVID-19, making things worse for our hospitals.  Such option is simply not feasible, not just in the Philippines, but all over the world. We have to protect the unvaccinated from flooding the hospitals until they get inoculated.

The focus of the Bakuna bubble implementation is the NCR. We are not going to implement it nationwide since vaccines have not yet reached all regions of the country. Metro Manila is an ideal testing ground since majority of the residents are already vaccinated with the first dose, and in two months, 80 percent will get inoculated. The Bakuna bubble is not only my call, it is a collective plea from restaurants, spas, and gyms owners, who all believe that we have to open the economy safely, like any and all businessmen want to do. As we open the economy, we will continue yo vaccinate the unvaccinated so they can have the same privilege as those fully vaccinated.

Currently, we have inoculated close to 1.5 million of our employees in the private sector and they have received it with open arms, knowing that this is the sure-fire way to open the economy safely. With that, I believe that the unvaccinated, by asserting their rights, cannot just simply hold the country hostage. While we agree with Sergio’s argument that a small number of vaccinated people going out will not accomplish what we want, let’s be honest about it. Do you want our hospitals to be burdened by unvaccinated COVID-19 patients? If that happens, the government will have no other option but to implement a strict lockdown. If I were the president, I will do that because I don’t want to see people dying. But who are flooding our hospitals? Clearly, it is the unvaccinated. That’s why this is being called the pandemic of the unvaccinated. Allowing the unvaccinated to go out is not the solution and it will only make things worse for the country.

We, the private sector, have the responsibility to find the right solution. You just cannot roll with the tide. Sometimes we have to swim against the current to accomplish the right thing. We have to conduct non-stop vaccination to protect all Filipinos against the virus. That is what our vaccine czar Secretary Charlie Galvez is doing and that is also where we are heading. We bought 17 million doses of vaccines last year and the private sector is determined to get the situation under control. But we need to have alternative solutions. People will say that limiting the movement of the unvaccinated is discriminatory, but it is also discriminatory to close down businesses. In the end, we have to do things that needed to be done and accomplish them in a manner that is safe for everyone.

The private sector is doing its best to co-exist with COVID-19. But every citizen has to do their share and have themselves vaccinated. From the private sector’s point-of-view, we have to open the economy safely, and that is our responsibility to our consumers as well. We are very confident that the last quarter of the year will be a great one if we work together against COVID-19.

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