DTI to push improved protocol compliance
Children line up during a feeding program by a foundation at the Baseco compound in Manila yesterday. President Duterte reversed the other night an IATF decision to ease age restrictions, saying children aged 10-14 should stay home due to a new COVID variant. Lower photo shows people taking the saliva test for COVID at the Philippine Red Cross headquarters in Manila yesterday.
Edd Gumban

DTI to push improved protocol compliance

Louella Desiderio (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2021 - 12:00am

To help business establishments attract patrons

MANILA, Philippines — With the decision of the government’s pandemic task force to ease age restrictions on those allowed to go out of their houses withdrawn by President Duterte, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said yesterday it would push for improved compliance with health protocols by business establishments to increase consumer confidence.

“We heard the decision of the President last night (Monday) to revert back from 10 years old to 15 years old the minimum age restriction. So it’s back to status quo APOR (authorized persons outside residence) age of 15 to 65 years old. Of course we follow the wisdom of our President,” Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said in a Viber message to reporters yesterday.

Last week, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) arrived at a decision to allow even children as young as 10 years old in modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) areas to step out of their homes starting Feb.1, to help encourage economic activity.

It was the DTI and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) that made a presentation before the IATF on the need to ease age restrictions for the sake of economic recovery.

In pushing for relaxed age restrictions, the DTI and NEDA said sales of businesses are still far from pre-pandemic levels.

Lopez said earlier that families with children accounted for around 30 to 50 percent of sales of establishments in malls and commercial areas.

For now, Lopez said the DTI would continue pursuing programs under the Bayanihan 2 law to support businesses and help them comply with health protocols and enhance consumer confidence at the same time.

“He asked us to study further the new variant because it might spread and the blame might be put on the easing of age restriction,” Lopez also said.

“So better to observe further the new variant and it might be safer to adjust once we are able to control the spread of the new variant. Better to err on the side of caution,” he added.

For her part, Philippine Retailers Association president Rosemarie Ong said that while further easing of age restrictions would give establishments an additional market especially for recreation and dining, there is greater need for everyone to focus on safety as cases of infection continue to rise. “We can always push for other channels to serve them such as online,” she said.

No issue

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said there should be no fuss over the President’s decision – especially over business loss – as he is only concerned about the welfare of the people.

“It’s non-issue because in the first place we just want to determine the impact of the new variant on the youth. If it would be proven that there won’t be much impact, then why not (ease restrictions)?” Roque said in Filipino.

Pressed on the possible effect of the prolonged age-based restriction on the economy, Roque said the government may revert to less stricter measures in the next few weeks anyway.

“We hope, first of all, that this will not be permanent. The problem on COVID-19 will be resolved soon. Because the vaccines are here, so let us not forget that,” he said, adding that the vaccination starts next month.

Earlier, Roque said the IATF decision was made after a thorough study.

The Department of Health (DOH) welcomed President Duterte’s decision to retain the age restrictions earlier relaxed by the IATF.

“The DOH welcomes the President’s directive to retain the current age groups allowed to go out. This will give us time for at least two cycles of genome sequencing with adequate representation from all regions to determine the extent of the transmission of the variant of concern,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario said in a statement.

In a separate interview with One News’ The Chiefs Monday night, Vergeire reported that after consultation with experts, DOH recommended the temporary suspension of the plan to ease the age restriction among those allowed to go out.

“We have tried to have some form of evidence so that we could be able to have that appeal. This is really not to stop the implementation of the lessening of the restriction, but what we would want is for it to be temporarily suspended so that we could have more time in determining if really the variant is in other areas of the country so that we can be guided in our actions,” Vergeire explained.

She said the DOH sought a two-week temporary suspension to determine if there are other COVID variants that remain unidentified.

The health official noted that the DOH has started collecting swab samples from all regions in the country in a bid to identify existing variants nationwide.

Vergeire said the new strain is known to be more transmissible, but there is still no conclusive evidence showing it is deadlier.

“Reports (that it is deadlier) are just preliminary findings. If we look closely there are many cases, and there will be more deaths and that is something we expect,”” she said.

“All the more that cases increase, the deaths might increase as well because there would be severe cases, the system will be overwhelmed and eventually there would be deaths,” Vergeire added.

For this reason, Vergeire said the government is exerting all efforts to prevent cases from increasing to also avoid the possibility of the virus mutating.

She said the higher prevalence of COVID cases also increases the chance of the virus mutating as part of its attempt to survive.

“”If we lessen the restriction more people will go out, and more will get infected and therefore greater chances that the variants will be here or may be produced,” she noted. – Mayen Jaymalin, Christina Mendez

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