As many as 300,000 workers are expected to be added to the active labor force as Metro Manila and several parts of the country shift to the less restrictive Alert Level 3 that will allow more businesses to reopen.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the country’s recovery is moving rapidly in the right direction, given the increased vaccination rates and the increasing confidence of consumers to go out and spend, and of more workers to go out and work.
“With most of the remaining economic sectors, particularly the service sectors to be reopened in Metro Manila, and at higher operating capacities because of the de-escalation to Alert Level 3, we expect most of the balance of displaced workers to be back to work,” he said Thursday.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) announced on Wednesday the easing of quarantine restrictions from Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 3.
Lopez said while this was still far from pre-pandemic levels, it was nonetheless “a lot better than an ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) situation.”
Meanwhile. the Department of Tourism (DOT) sees the improving alert level as a significant boost to tourism-oriented establishments that will result in the restoration of jobs of displaced tourism workers as the holiday season approaches.
“We welcome the easing of restrictions under the current alert level. The resumption of tourism-related activities in select areas will not only aid hotels and establishments in gradually earning revenue, but will also translate into the restoration of jobs for our displaced tourism workers, especially now that the holiday season is fast approaching,” said Tourism Secretary Bernadette Puyat.
Under the IATF guidelines, dine-in services in restaurants as well as venues for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions, venues for social events such as weddings, parties and family reunions, and tourist attractions such as museums, parks plazas, public gardens and other scenic viewpoints will be allowed to operate at a maximum of 30 percent indoor capacity for fully vaccinated individuals only, and 50 percent outdoor venue capacity for individuals regardless of vaccination status.
The IATF requires that the workers of these establishments are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and that there is no objection from the LGU where these activities will take place.
Puyat said establishments permitted to operate under Alert Level 3, such as restaurants, venues for meetings and social events, and tourist attractions, may operate at 30 percent with an additional 20 percent capacity, since NCR has met the requirement of at least 70 percent vaccination for senior citizens and those with comorbidities, and another 10 percent operational capacity if they have been granted a Safety Seal by the government.
Meanwhile, specialized markets of the DOT such as Staycations will be allowed to operate at 100 percent capacity under Alert Level 3.
“This is also very timely, knowing that the holiday season is fast approaching. Family gatherings are part of the Filipino culture, which makes this an important period for leisure travel and bookings,” Puyat said.
Under the amended guidelines, only DOT-accredited staycation hotels with Safety Seal certification will be allowed to accommodate staycation guests.
Individuals of all ages may check in for staycation. However, to ensure the safety of all guests, only those 18 years old and above who are fully vaccinated will be allowed to book their stay.
Amid the lowering of the alert level in Metro Manila, the World Health Organization’s representative in the Philippines called for “very clear” messaging about restrictions to avoid “putting people’s lives at risk.”
“It’s not about relaxing or reducing the restrictions -- it’s about calibrating,” Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the WHO’s official in the country, said.
Social distancing and mask-wearing, even among fully vaccinated people, were “critically important to maintain the gains and further strengthen the transmission reduction”.
Lockdowns and other measures have shattered the economy and thrown millions out of work.
The government’s top economic manager warned last month the next two generations of Filipinos would be paying for the cost of Covid-19.
The Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday said it will monitor if the reopening of movie theaters in Metro Manila would lead to an increase in COVID-19 cases.
Cinemas in Metro Manila have been allowed to open starting Oct. 16 with the lowering of the alert level to Level 3.
“They’re doing vaccinations now in cinemas. For as long as the minimum health public standards are followed, we can give it a try then monitor if there’s going to be an unusual increase of cases if and when the cinemas are opened. But again this is controlled, regulated to about 30 percent,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque said in an interview on ANC’s Headstart.
“It means there is spacing, then you have the face mask, and then the cinemas must have filters similar to the ones being used inside an airplane. I think they upgraded their ventilation,” he added.
Under Alert Level 3, establishments such as cinemas and amusement parks as well as activities such as in-person religious gatherings and limited face-to-face classes for higher education and for technical-vocational education and training are allowed at a maximum of 30 percent indoor venue capacity for fully vaccinated individuals only and 50 percent outdoor venue capacity.
Amid the worry of health care workers that the downgrade was done “too early,” Duque said the government maintains flexibility in its COVID-19 response.
“The system calls for weekly monitoring of the cases that are registered on a daily basis. So no worries because we are nimble. I mean, we can always escalate,” he said.
The Philippines logged 7,835 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of infections to 2,698,232.
There were 154 new fatalities, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 40,221.
The DOH also reported 5,317 new recoveries, bringing the total recoveries to 2,573,161.
The positivity rate was at 14 percent, based on samples of 51,358 individuals tested on Oct. 12.
There were 84,850 active cases, of which 77.2 percent were mild, 10.6 percent were asymptomatic, 1.5 percent were critical, 3.6 percent were severe, and 7.01 percent were moderate.
Nationwide, 65 percent of ICU beds, 51 percent of isolation beds, 51 percent of ward beds, and 48 percent of ventilators, were in use.
In Metro Manila, 61 percent of ICU beds, 42 percent of isolation beds, 47 percent of ward beds, and 49 percent of ventilators, were in use.
The OCTA Research group earlier reported that all cities in Metro Manila are now at moderate risk as the reproduction number in the region decreased to 0.60, an indication that the transmission of the virus is slowing down.
Metro Manila’s alert level was downgraded as its health care utilization rate was considered as a “low risk” 50.92 percent, and its intensive care unit occupancy at a “moderate risk” 66 percent, Duque said.
“It’s a tough balancing act between health and livelihood. That’s been a constant challenge to all of us. We’re sensitive to both but not to the exclusion of either. These are not mutually exclusive propositions,” he said.
However, Dr. Maricar Limpin, chief of the Philippine College of Physicians, said a decline in COVID cases must not be the only factor in deciding whether to relax virus protocols.
The Health department earlier said the decline in COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila was “not artificial.”
In other developments:
* Philippine National Police chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar ordered police officers in Metro Manila to assist in ensuring that businesses and other establishments comply with the guidelines on the prescribed operational capacity under Alert Level 3.
* Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez, the chairman of the Metro Manila Council, said that health workers are not at ease over the decline in health care utilization in the National Capital Region amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
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