Creative precautions to avert 10M joblessness
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - May 29, 2020 - 12:00am

School enrollment will start after all as set on June 1. Malacañang cleared the confusion over President Duterte’s earlier “walang-pasok” edict till a COVID-19 vaccine is ready. That allays fears of private school administrators about keeling over. Presumably they can collect tuition –and thereby pay staff salaries – while perfecting flexible learning options to face-to-face classroom settings. Half-million faculty and non-academic employees can rest easy they won’t be among the ten million expected to go jobless. When last month it set back-to-school by Aug. 24 the Dept. of Education bought ample time to prepare radio, television and online modules for 27 million learners. DepEd will have three months to assess if actual classes can resume. Observing gradual phase-ins the world over, it can also retrofit schoolhouses for the new norms of physical distancing, universal masking, and frequent disinfecting – if no vaccine is found at all. The point is education must restart for the youth’s sake. Everything else will follow. Teachers, school suppliers and alternative learning designers will have work. Parents too can work, or learn better child supervision. The industry can recover.

If only that model is applied too in other economic sectors. In healthcare, for one, the ban on overseas placements can be lifted. On labor officials’ prodding Duterte forbade in April the departure of doctors, nurses, molecular and microbiologists, pharmacists, x-ray and lab technicians and repairmen, and hospital supervisors. The initial announcement was so sudden and arbitrary that even home-vacationing hospital workers and caregivers were offloaded from flights back abroad. It’s unclear till today how many of 240,000 potential recruits lost their chance. The move was counterintuitive. Labor officials already had been told then that 400,000 overseas Filipino workers would be retrenched from shrinking world economies this first pandemic year alone. Chairman Sonny Matula of Nagkaisa Labor Coalition denounced the move as forced domestic servitude. The Dept. of Health was offering only 15,000 temporary anti-COVID-19 jobs, at controversially low pay and iffy supply of protective gear. Perhaps it’s not too late to correct that.

There are solutions to worries of infection. In public transport the ban on jitneys and buses leaves hundreds of thousands of drivers, conductors, and mechanics without income. Yet plastic curtains to separate jitney riders have been tried out in Baguio. New bus seat configurations can be adopted for safe distancing.

Same goes for many other industries raring to reopen under precautions. Restaurants are earning only five percent of usual because limited to take-outs and deliveries. But if dine-ins resume under strict rules there can be ripples in other industries. Poultry and piggery will perk up, along with animal feeds and meds.

It doesn’t help for officials to issue simplistic, arrogant statements. Like, employers who cannot provide shuttle and quarters to employees supposedly must remain shut after the lockdowns. That is so insensitive, at a time when pandemic has reduced medium-size businesses to small, small ones to micro, and micro to zero. Since the COVID-19 outbreak millions of entrepreneurs big and small generously gave to harder-hit folk. While continuing to pay employee salaries during months of lockdown, they gave away their stocks and services to charity. They are among the 25 million who have suffered income slashes since March. Many are depending only on their savings. To be harrumphed at to stay shut if they hardly have capital left for staff transport and housing stifles their will. They just might close shop and keep whatever is left of their savings for the prolonged crisis ahead.

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Gratitude to SM. Through SM Foundation Inc. (SMFI) it built seven insulated emergency quarantine facilities to treat COVID-19 infectees. Four are in Camp Crame; two at the AFP Health Service Command, V. Luna, Quezon City; and one at the Air Force General Hospital, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City. SM Engineering Design and Development team headed by Hans Sy Jr. and WTA Architecture and Design Studio completed the work in less than ten days. Suited for asymptomatic and mild patients are 156 beds, air conditioning, ceiling and exhaust fans, toilets, showers, and nurses’ lounges. In Camp Crame each bed has a built-in call system and patients have Wi-Fi.

SM also has donated over P170 million in personal protective equipment, test kits, and ICU ventilators to over a hundred hospitals. Foremost recipients were Philippine General Hospital, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, and Lung Center, all in Metro Manila. As well, Baguio General Hospital in the Cordilleras. Supplementing the test kits were accessories and supplies: hyperfilter tips, system racks, and cryo-vials.

PPEs are crucial in shielding medical frontliners from lethal contagion. PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests from Korea are to swiftly isolate and treat infectees. Ventilators are for critical patients. And alcohol and disinfectants prevent virus spread in the medical institutions.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

My book “Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government” is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Expos%C3%A9s-Investigative-Reporting-Clean-Government-ebook/dp/B00EPX01BG

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Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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