Private sector suggestions

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

The Makati Business Club has come up with a pretty exhaustive paper detailing suggestions on how to improve our country’s COVID-19 response. I am not sure the Duterte government welcomes suggestions, but it will certainly do the country good if they do.

I can only give snippets of the practical suggestions the MBC made due to lack of space. But with the future of the country at stake and given the enormous costs to the economy of the current pandemic response, the government should open a dialogue with the private sector on how to do things better.

The MBC paper seeks to open up the economy as safely as possible. The MBC noted that “reopening without proper precautions can result in surging infection and illness, avoidable lockdowns, an extended pandemic, and even more opportunities for COVID to mutate... ”

Also, the MBC pointed out, “the country is far from so-called herd immunity levels. Many doctors say the required level has risen to up to 90 percent because of Delta. And some doctors say that with 90 percent, herd immunity may be too difficult to reach, making ‘living with COVID’ for at least several years the new normal.”

The pandemic has pushed our healthcare workers and our healthcare facilities to the brink of exhaustion. Hospitals are seeing a lot of resignations that will further hinder their ability to treat COVID and non-COVID patients.

“And a dispute between PhilHealth and hospitals regarding billions of pesos raises the risk that hospitals – one of the most important parts in the war against COVID – will stop treating non-paying patients, because they can’t afford it or worse, it leaves them bankrupt.”

MBC chairman Edgar O. Chua also pointed out the need to plan for the medium term: “While the science is developing, we should assume we will need vaccination every year for the next few years. We need to organize ourselves to make sure we have the vaccines and can service everyone’s needs.”

Furthermore, Mr. Chua observed that “we cannot just vax our way to reopening and recovery. We need physical facilities, tech-enabled systems, financially-viable hospitals, and properly-paid healthcare workers. We can’t fight COVID without the hospitals, we can’t run the hospitals without healthcare workers.”

While vaccination is the main strategy, the MBC noted, it needs to be part of a multi-pronged approach. The spending required for such measures is probably less than the cost of lockdowns.

“With the progress on vaccinations, we support reopening the economy with strategies like Bakuna bubbles and granular lockdowns so more Filipinos can work and take care of their families.

“To avoid recurring surges and broad lockdowns, these strategies need to be backed with science-backed protocols and the government should renew its efforts to support and improve our hospital quarantine, isolation, contact tracing, and testing systems.”

Here are some more suggestions:

“First, open up vaccination to all Filipinos while maintaining priority lanes for A1, A2, A3, and A4. We believe this can be done after the highest priority persons have been given a reasonable time to get vaccinated. We believe it is especially appropriate in areas with the highest vaccination levels such as NCR or areas where daily vaccination rates have slowed. As the science develops, this should include minors.

“Second, keep allocation of vaccines strategic and efficient. This means taking population, number of cases, and number of unvaccinated people into account when allocating vaccines.

“Vaccines should also be given corresponding to LGUs’ ability to vaccinate, while helping LGUs with less capacity to increase their capacity. Data on distribution should also be made more transparent to avoid any perception it is politicized.

“Third, we encourage the government to accelerate vaccine purchases not only for the still unvaccinated population, but also, as the science develops, for boosters. Boosters should probably go first to healthcare workers whose immunity may be waning because they were the first to be vaccinated.

“But the government should be ready to cover the whole population, if necessary, for as many years as needed. The government should continue buying a portfolio of vaccines, which is serving us well amid delivery and efficacy issues.

“On pricing, we should balance our attempts to buy more for less with the calculation that even high-priced vaccines are less expensive than testing or treating COVID.

“Fourth, to help accelerate vaccination, the government should allow LGUs and the private sector to buy more of their own vaccines either through more tripartite agreements for EUA vaccines or by accelerating FDA’s full approval of vaccines, which would allow companies to buy them directly...

“Fifth, in order to facilitate reopening, including strategies such as Bakuna bubbles and granular lockdowns, government should allow businesses to require employees to get vaccinated, provided that the companies provide the vaccines or arrange vaccination by LGUs, and provided employees can decline based on doctors’ orders.

“This would require a review of DOLE Labor Advisory 03-21, which prohibits companies from requiring vaccines, and RA 11525, the COVID-19 Vaccine Procurement Act of 2021, which prohibits companies from requiring vaccination cards for continued employment or hiring. The government itself, as the country’s biggest employer, should consider a vaccine mandate as well.

“Sixth, we commend the governments and businesses that have offered incentives to encourage citizens, employees, and customers to get vaccinated. We encourage more.”

The MBC also suggested that reopening strategies be limited to areas with high vaccination rates. There should be a clear, transparent formula for this.

Then, allow vaccinated persons increasingly full freedom to work or move around provided MPHS (minimum public health standards) are kept. “Aside from helping the economy recover, we believe observing the vaccinated regain mobility will encourage skeptics to get vaccinated as well.”

More MBC suggestions in future columns. In the meantime, it will really help if the government listens to the private sector because we are all in this pandemic together.



Boo Chanco’s email address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.

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