Omicron sweeps through conglomerates

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

These days, when someone sneezes, the rest of the world catches Omicron. Or at least it feels something like that. This is what’s happening in the headquarters and offices of some of the country’s conglomerates.

Omicron, the dominant variant in the country today, is indeed spreading like wildfire and is sweeping through many companies, big or small.

Employees have been calling in sick or taking emergency leave to take care of their sick loved ones, industry sources say.

In one giant listed conglomerate, two of out five people have tested positive, but the symptoms fortunately are mild, say insiders. Lots of sneezing, coughing, sore throat, colds, and low-grade fever for others.

In another smaller and unlisted conglomerate, three out of five tested positive.

Another company counted up to 200 employees who tested positive, out of its roughly 1,000 employees. Its chairman said he has been helping administer the tests because even the office testing staff could not report to work.

In another firm, out of 381 employees in its main office that were tested last week, 162 people turned out to be positive. Thus, the company owner decided to suspend operations for a week.

“My entire safety team of two nurses and three engineers who help with the testing are also all positive,” said the company owner.

“I’m at my wit’s end,” he added.

One tycoon believes that eventually all of us will get Omicron because of its high transmissibility.

“I feel we will all get Omicron in the next couple of months,” said the tycoon who heads a giant conglomerate.

From return to office to return to WFH

San Miguel Corp. has placed its return-to-office plan on hold for its NCR employees to prevent workplace transmission and allow those affected to recover properly.

“We are carefully monitoring our COVID-19 cases across the group and adjusting our policies,” SMC president and CEO Ramon Ang said.

He said manning complement in SMC’s offices is now limited to 20 percent, prioritizing essential workers involved in critical business activities.

“With the surge upon us, many of us are affected. The most important thing we as a company can do is to help prevent its further spread so as not to overwhelm our medical sector and to allow for proper isolation for those who have tested positive,” Ang said. He assured consumers the company’s businesses would continue to provide essential products and services throughout this time.

Ayala-led Globe Telecom has not been spared from the current challenges of rising community infections. It announced the temporary closure of nearly three dozen stores in the NCR and other areas.

Another listed construction company has also reverted to the WFH home set-up.

Some of the Metro Manila branches of the country’s big banks are also closed.

You hear of similar stories in almost every company or office these days.

What can companies do?

It’s good that some companies are providing their employees free testing, and for some, home care packages.

But perhaps, it’s time for CEOs to really rethink the future of work. It’s time to really embrace a hybrid set-up for the long haul instead of focusing on a return-to-office mindset, as new COVID-19 variants may still emerge months or even years down the road.

One multinational company has been doing just that and has mandated a WFH set-up since 2020.

‘Crazy infectious’

Omicron is indeed crazy infectious, as Alice Dreger, PhD, a historian of medicine and science, describes it.

One company owner said, “despite all the precautions of PPEs, double masks, shields, and double gloves for our safety team, they still got it.”

It is at least comforting to know that the symptoms are milder compared to the pestilent and lethal Delta variant.

Viruses, after all, mutate more rapidly than human cells do and they need to continue finding ways to survive in the environment. They die if their hosts die, so they need to continue to find that balance where they can thrive and stay alive. It’s a trade-off between severity and its contagiousness.

What can government do?

For sure, temporary shutdowns and work stoppage will again hurt our already battered economy.

But while the symptoms are mild, it does not mean we should go out, party all night or put our guard down because we still need to slow down infections so that our fragile health system does not collapse.

Some hospitals and medical facilities have already closed their doors temporarily as I write this. The UP Health Service is one.

We need to avoid this situation because if hospitals close, citizens with non-COVID-19 medical emergencies such as car accidents, heart attacks or other survivable situations, will not be able to get emergency medical help and may die when they could have been saved.

In any case, I don’t think another hard lockdown will work. Other countries, too, are opting to live with the virus by making adjustments along the way instead of imposing hard lockdowns again.

The difference, however, lies in testing and efficient government response. In other countries, there’s a database for efficient contact-tracing. You can also walk inside pharmacies to get vaccinated and get tested for COVID-19 for free.

But here, we’re still arguing whether or not to allow self-administered antigen tests at home. We had two years to approve test kits, but we did not.

Omicron is spreading like wildfire. Our authorities need to keep up.



Iris Gonzales’ email address is [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com


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