Work smart, stay safe

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak - The Philippine Star

While January may have started tentatively, the lunar new year seems to be on much better footing. Indeed, the Year of the Tiger is looking quite promising. The country has been focusing on recovery from the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and has been continuously looking for ways to boost the economy. This includes incentives for businesses, adjusting alert levels to help prevent shut-downs, and supporting employees as much as possible.

For those carefully watching the economic growth, the past several months certainly seem to be encouraging. According to the Department of Finance, the final quarter of 2021 saw a 7.7 percent growth in the gross domestic product (GDP), bringing the full-year growth for the GDP to 5.6 percent.

This growth exceeded expectations and is promising amidst several setbacks in COVID-19 management and the emergence of new variants and waves in 2021, and just this January when Omicron rapidly moved through NCR.

Understandably, we were concerned that this new wave and lockdown would cause economic damage anew, but luckily, at this point, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

While Omicron spread alarmingly fast, the variant didn’t present a severe risk to the country’s healthcare infrastructure due to its milder symptoms. Plus, a large percent of the population in NCR are also fully vaccinated and even boosted. This, undoubtedly, played a significant role in minimizing the impact and keeping people safe.

So now, as we downgrade to Alert Level 2 and even potentially go lower later this month, we need to remember that just because the alert level is low doesn’t mean we can or should jump back into old habits. After all, a lot of these old habits got us in this situation in the first place. As we move forward, we need to be even more aware of the protocols and behaviors that have kept us safe these past two years.

The shift from pandemic to endemic if that is indeed, where we are, is good news for so many. However, we have to remember that this doesn’t mean that everything has just magically fixed itself. We survived because we were smart and didn’t take unnecessary risks, and we should keep that mindset moving forward.

After all, COVID-19 isn’t gone. We are just learning to protect ourselves better. We are shifting from blanket solutions to more targeted ones that focus on areas and groups that could potentially be impacted. From large-scale lockdowns to granular lockdowns, we are hopefully learning to stop spreads from happening at a smaller scale without waiting for it to become a large-scale problem.

At the same time, we continue to work with safety protocols. While businesses need to continue running and operating, that doesn’t mean we should rush back to working the way we used to before the pandemic. One of the biggest secrets we’ve learned during the lockdown is that while social interaction is important, there are also so many things we can continue to do safely remotely without unnecessarily exposing ourselves or others. The long-running joke of “that meeting could have been an email” was real, and we are learning to work smart rather than just working hard.

That is something that I am hoping we can continue despite the country opening up more and allowing more mobility. Again, while social interaction and engagement are important, we have to also recognize that there are several and often more efficient ways of handling things. Several offices have already begun a careful return-to-office approach of some days at the office, while other days remote and have been seeing great success. Let’s not force the issue any more than we need to.

After all, we are still seeing news in Europe that several countries are experiencing a new wave of infections and deaths from a stealth BA.2 subvariant of Omicron. This one is supposedly even more transmissible than the original Omicron BA.1 variant and has even greater immune-evasive properties, and the ability to penetrate even the defenses of the fully vaccinated. While this shouldn’t force us to live “in fear,” it should remind us to stay vigilant.

I think that is one of the problems we face regarding our response to almost anything. Filipinos tend to have short memories, and we rush right back into things with little regard for the lessons we have learned along the way. That should not be the case here. This time, the lessons we learned should shape how we live and work. We can’t and shouldn’t just jump right back into the way we lived in 2019. We have to be better moving forward.

And we have to keep pushing our vaccination and booster drives. We need to have a healthy mindset of what vaccines have done for us. Some people are saying that Omicron infected several vaccinated people and use it as an excuse not to get the jab, but what they are not seeing is the reality that vaccines are a large part of what kept Omicron from being deadly. They are doing their job and keeping people safe.

So hopefully, more of the holdouts consider getting it done, and those eligible for boosters get it sooner rather than later. We are also beginning our rollout for pediatric vaccinations for those aged five to 11, so that’s another age demographic that will be better protected.

It looks like we are turning the corner in our battle against COVID-19. If we can continue to stay the course, I’m cautiously optimistic that 2022 will turn out better for us all. But that will only happen if we don’t force unnecessary risks and take this carefully and slowly. Let’s work smart and remain committed to staying safe together.


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