DESPITE the looming threat of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the Philippines is still one of the safest countries to visit, especially during the holiday season, Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Jose Maria “Joey” Concepcion 3rd said on Monday.
With the daily case average among the lowest in the world and most indicators showing that the Philippines is not likely to experience another surge in cases this year, Concepcion believes the country is one of the most ideal places to spend the holidays, especially for Filipinos based abroad.
“Our kababayans should spend Christmas at home, not in a foreign land and definitely not at a quarantine facility,” said the Go Negosyo founder.
He appealed to the Department of Health to revert before December 15 the mandatory facility quarantine to three days so that returning Filipinos who test negative for the virus can be released in time to celebrate Christmas with their families.
“I personally think the risk is low since we will require PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests to be done 72 hours before departure and then again upon arrival, and then three days stay in quarantine. This should be time enough; in all, it will be a total of six days already,” said Concepcion, stressing that the country’s daily active cases are one of the lowest worldwide.
As of December 4, the Philippines has 4.01 daily cases per million people, compared with the 364.77 in the United States, 658 in the United Kingdom and 183.97 in Singapore.
Concepcion attributed the low figure to the government’s mass vaccination program, particularly in the National Capital Region (NCR), the epicenter of Covid-19 infections at the height of the pandemic.
Sealing the borders of Metro Manila, where the country’s biggest airport is located, and fortifying the outlying areas also helped contain the spread of the virus.
The NCR was also the focus of Concepcion’s “Bakuna Bubble” strategy where only fully vaccinated individuals were granted access to areas considered high risk for Covid-19.
Concepcion, guided by data provided by OCTA Research, also pushed for a hard lockdown in August during the uptick in cases driven by the Delta variant that slowed the rate of transmission.
“Looking at the numbers, it is clear that we are on safe grounds right now,” he said.
His optimism was shared by OCTA Research fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco during an online forum organized by the Cardinal Santos Medical Center. “This is the best shape that the Philippines has been since before the first wave,” said Austriaco.
“It is very different now. We have substantial immunity, our hospitals are better equipped, the health care workers are more experienced in how to deal with Covid,” he said. “We are at the best place right now in the [last] 20 months.”
Austriaco also noted that the chances of a surge breaking during the last days of 2021 are low. “I think we can be assured of a relatively healthy, pandemic new-normal Christmas,” he said.
If there will be a surge, it could be during the first quarter of 2022, and even then, it will not be as serious as previous ones, he said.
“I don’t think we appreciate the low numbers we are experiencing,” Austriaco added.
He said the Philippines may have achieved significant natural- and vaccine-induced immunity.
Concepcion warned the public against too much complacency since it could result in a major backlash.
“Can we handle another lockdown? Definitely not,” he said, since many small businesses were severely affected by previous lockdowns.
He warned that the Philippines has already incurred trillions in debt in fighting Covid-19 spending, and another lockdown would further impede the flow of revenue needed to pay back that debt and keep the country in good economic standing.
Concepcion also echoed the experts’ call for better genetic surveillance to better gauge the differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals when it comes to transmission, severity of infections and hospitalization.
“When Omicron is better understood, then we can take a more aggressive stance. We will not act irresponsibly, we are after a safe opening of the economy,” he said.