Industries have to be agile if they are to find a balance between public health and safety and a revitalized economy.
Strategies to prioritize both lives and livelihood, especially in the light of new lockdown protocols under the Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine, were tackled by leaders from the health, business, and academic sectors in the virtual business forum “Can the Philippines Dance with COVID-19?” held last August 5.
The country's designated testing czar, Secretary Vince Dizon, said increasing the capacity for testing is crucial to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“From 500 tests a day in March, we are now doing 35,000 tests today,” he said. “We are pushing to do more tests. We are [now] one of the countries who test the most in Asia, far outpacing the other countries in [the region],” he said.
“We have to push more in places with high spreads like Calabarzon. It's all about execution and coming together. Lahat tayo ay Pilipino at ngayon natin kailangang magsama-sama. Isantabi na natin ang iba't-ibang kulay at di pagkakaunawaan,” Dizon added.
The Department of Health has vowed to be more proactive in conducting contact tracing at the barangay level, especially during the MECQ period.
“We will not wait for patients to go to us; we will go to them,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire. “[We will] check for symptoms, and if there are exposed people, do necessary interventions. Eventually once we sustain this, the local government units will be more empowered.”
“We have two weeks to recalibrate our responses and stop the spread of infection. The sacrifices of people during the MECQ should not be in vain. There is no more national or local, we are all in this together. If we can all collaborate, we can beat COVID-19,” she added.
University of the Philippines College of Public Health Dean Dr. Vicente Belizario, for his part, underscored how accurate communication with the public is needed “to lower the risk of COVID-19 to low, low levels so it doesn't pose a risk to a significant number of the population and to public areas.”
“We need to train young people to become effective communicators for behavior change. It is not enough to put up posters and ads – we have to make sure that these materials result in behavior modification.”
“Enhanced surveillance and response in the regions and provinces and capacity is built even in the periphery so we can act quickly in the collection and processing of data – and [provide them to] local and national authorities,” he said.
Former Health secretary Dr. Manuel Dayrit said the public should not fixate on the total number of cases.
“A large proportion of them have already recovered. So what are the new cases occurring everyday? This is where we can intervene,” said Dayrit, a member of Task Force T3, citing the importance of building capacity in various aspects throughout the entire medical supply chain, including testing, laboratories, isolation, contact tracing, and hospital beds.
“We need to invest in and modernize our health system because we will face similar medical challenges in the future. Many of these facilities have been neglected over time. Now we're trying to get them to perform at a level to fight this virus. This is a chance to rise to the occasion,” he said.
Josephine Gotianun-Yap, CEO of the Filinvest Development Corporation, stressed the importance of data management in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Her company, Filinvest, used the StaySafe app for daily health reporting and app-based contact tracing. It was also among the first to install safety measures at the initial stages of the outbreak.
“It's important for us to have a data system to track COVID-19,” she said, adding that building an “end-to-end system that can track COVID-19 and link hospitals and clinics” should be part of the goal.
Lars Wittig, European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines vice president and country manager of Regus and Spaces agreed that success in containing COVID-19 boils down to “a matter of execution and with the significant contribution of the private enterprise.”
Amor Maclang, chairwoman of the ECCP’s Innovation Committee and communications technical advisor to the DOH, underscored how the return to MECQ illuminated the constant challenge posed by the disease.
“We have to learn to live with COVID-19 possibly for a long while. If we need a little rest from the fight, then let's take this time to learn how to dance. We have to recalibrate our actions and improve what we are already doing to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe,” she said.
George Royeca, chief transport advocate of Angkas, pointed out the importance of individual responsibility to foster collaboration.
“There are gaps in implementation, but it has to start with ourselves. When we go out, we wear masks, do social distancing, etc. The public needs to know they have a big responsibility,” he said.
“The private sector needs to know our role. Let's use this virus not to be divisive but to unify us. COVID-19 doesn’t care about differences so let's work together and try to solve it,” Royeca added.