Opening up the economy: We must proceed with caution
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - July 5, 2020 - 12:00am

Secretary Sonny Dominguez is strongly recommending that we must make a firm decision in opening up the economy sooner than soon to prevent an economic collapse and save jobs. I totally agree, but we should proceed with extreme caution since the virus is still very much around with the latest recorded 1,531 additional cases nationwide last Friday coming from different parts of the country especially in Cebu City.

Many countries in Europe are starting to lift lockdowns to revive shuttered economies, slowly opening up more businesses in various industries. If anything, New York has turned out to be the best example on how to manage and control the virus. Governor Andrew Cuomo has done a magnificent job in flattening the curve. The state of New York was the epicenter of the virus in the United States last March but is now opening up cautiously.

There is optimism a vaccine would be available by the last quarter of this year, with the Philippines hopefully one of the early recipients. But even with the availability of a vaccine, people should still continue to observe minimum health precautions such as the frequent washing of hands and wearing of masks.

Companies should take it upon themselves to impose health and safety precautions in the workplace. Workstations should be disinfected, alcohol dispensers should be placed in strategic areas, hand soap and sanitizers must be made available in restrooms to ensure hygiene, the number of people allowed in elevators should be limited to ensure that social distancing is observed, and people must have their temperature checked before they are allowed to enter the building. Of course, the wearing of masks should be mandatory.

We agree with Secretary Dominguez that companies or businesses that do not follow strict protocols should remain closed or may have their business licenses canceled. Inessential establishments such as bars and party places should still be banned from operating especially with the recent news that over 100 people including a celebrity host and his wife were arrested in a Makati bar for violating social distancing protocols. Restaurants may be opened, but on a case-to-case basis if ventilation is good and with limited capacity to make sure that social distancing is strictly followed.

While many businesses were forced to close as a consequence of the pandemic, those in the information technology-business process management (IT-BPM) industry are proving to be resilient and able to maintain their global competitiveness. This became apparent during the IT-BPM webinar titled “Philippine IT-Business Outsourcing Opportunities: Global Business Processes Powered by the Philippines,” organized by the Department of Trade and Industry with the Philippine embassy in Washington, that was attended by investors and key industry players in the US.

According to Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) president Rey Untal, who was one of the presenters during the webinar, the sector was able to remain productive despite the restrictive measures that needed to be implemented, and without compromising on the health and safety of the workforce.

Healthcare Information Management Association of the Philippines (HIMAP) president Roger Salazar also disclosed that while other industries were laying off people, hiring and training continued for the healthcare industry. More of the workforce are also doing work from home, with high levels of productivity also achieved despite quarantine restrictions, Roger said.

The work from home setup is proving to be a very good idea even in the future when restrictions are relaxed because we want to minimize the number of people traveling not only to cut down on the traffic but prevent the congestion and pollution that are compromising the health of people.

We should learn from the mistakes of other countries especially in several states in the US where the situation continues to be alarming with confirmed cases increasing in 40 states, with a record-high single-day increase of positive cases reaching 51,200 last Wednesday. First of all, not only did they open too soon, but they either eased or did not impose restrictions in areas that would be prone to the spread of infection such as bars and even beaches, with people also refusing to wear masks and disregarding social distancing protocols.

The surge of infections and the appearance of new clusters in several states like Alabama for instance are being blamed on some reckless and irresponsible young people who throw these so-called “COVID parties” where people infected with the coronavirus are present. Apparently, the first person who gets confirmed by a doctor that he has contracted the virus will win a payout coming from ticket sales from the party.

In Mississippi, new outbreaks are being attributed to fraternity rush parties that violated state guidelines imposing a 20-person limit to indoor gatherings. In Texas, hundreds of high school students were exposed to the virus after attending a drinking party known as a “pong fest” where some of the attendees had COVID-19 symptoms and were waiting for test results. In Rockland County, an estimated 50-100 people were exposed after attending a party hosted by an individual who was already displaying COVID-19 symptoms.

Clearly, the behavior of these people is not only totally irresponsible but criminal because they are endangering the lives of others, which is why many want them to be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

While opening up the economy is essential, and that people need to go back to work, we still have to exercise patience and proceed with extreme caution to avoid far worse consequences in the end.

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