Shortened quarantine to benefit MSME

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THE shortened mandatory quarantine period for arriving travelers is expected to help micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) recover from the pandemic, Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Jose Maria “Joey” Concepcion 3rd said on Friday.

In a statement, Concepcion lauded the government’s decision to shorten quarantine time for returning Filipino immigrants, their families and overseas Filipino workers from “yellow list” territories, saying it is an “early Christmas gift” to Filipino families.

He stressed the downstream benefits to MSMEs of allowing more travelers to the Philippines.

“Many MSMEs are counting on the increased holiday and pre-election spending to help them recover from the losses during the pandemic. They will be able to pay back their loans and earn enough to provide for their workers’ 13th month pay. There are many things that depend on letting our kababayans come home this Christmas,” Concepcion said.

The Go Negosyo founder led the private sector in calling on the government to reduce the required five-day stay at facility quarantines for fully vaccinated individuals.

The long quarantine was cited by overseas-based Filipinos as the main reason for putting off their plans to travel to the Philippines this Christmas.

Under the new quarantine protocols, fully vaccinated arrivals from yellow-list territories must present a negative pre-departure test taken 72 hours before departure.

On arrival, they must undergo facility-based quarantine with a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test on the third day. If they test negative, they can leave the facility and self-monitor their condition for 14 days.

Minors who are not fully vaccinated and who are accompanied by fully vaccinated individuals will undergo the same quarantine protocol as the adults.

Non-fully vaccinated minors will undergo the same protocols as unvaccinated individuals and be tested after seven days in a quarantine facility.

Concepcion had earlier pointed out that arriving international travelers “posed very little risk to raising infection rates in the country,” citing data from Philippine Airlines that shows “a very low positivity rate among inbound passengers from the US.”

Analysis by OCTA Research also showed that most of the new Covid-19 cases in the country are locally transmitted.

Concepcion also said the private sector is looking for ways to speed up testing by exploring new technologies that would address the expected increase in passenger arrivals.

He also lauded the decision to include in the new interim quarantine protocols arrivals from all yellow-listed countries, and not just those from North America.

“This is the trend around the world now. Other countries like the US, India and Thailand are opening their borders. We should learn from their experiences so we can apply them to the Philippines as we safely open up our economy and join the rest of the world,” Concepcion said.

Travel restrictions were eased as the Covid-19 outlook throughout the country continued to improve.

In the National Capital Region (NCR), the test positivity rate or the percent of positive samples out of those who had been tested has reached 2 percent, the lowest since testing began last year, according to OCTA.

This comes as Metro Manila ended its second week under Alert Level 2.

In its latest update released on Friday, OCTA said the 2-percent positivity rate is below the 3 percent recommended by the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the 5 percent recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Based on results from the November 12 to 18 period, the seven-day average of new cases in Metro Manila dropped by 17 percent to 349 cases per day from the 421 during the previous week.

The cities of Navotas, Caloocan, Pateros, Marikina and Valenzuela were listed as very low risk areas, based on metrics used by the Harvard Medical School’s Covid Act Now system.

Only the cities of Las Piñas, Muntinlupa and Quezon City had intensive care unit (ICU) bed utilization rates above 50 percent, with Las Piñas having a high-risk ICU utilization rate of 74 percent.

OCTA said that while NCR was able to sustain the downtrend in cases, the goal is to bring it down to 50 cases daily by year’s end.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that while the positivity rate is one metric in determining a drop in cases, an area under Alert Level 2 must sustain its low-risk status before it can move into the more lenient Alert Level 1.

Vergeire said the government’s alert level system does not only look at case trends, health care utilization and even the positivity rate, but also at vaccinations and compliance to the safety seal requirement.

She also said the Metro Manila Council and the Department of Health (DoH) have not resolved the issue of whether to allow minors to leave their houses, but that all considerations are being “further studied.”

The DoH also said it needs around 160,000 volunteers, or equivalent to 30,000 vaccination teams, for the mass vaccination drive on November 29 to December 1.

The department is looking for health screeners, vaccinators, post-vaccination monitoring personnel, health educators, registration personnel, encoders, and data consolidators and talliers.

Vergeire also urged the private companies with excess vaccines to not use them as booster doses for their employees, since the DoH has not green-lighted the administration of boosters for the general population.

Vergeire said booster shots are for now limited to health care workers, senior citizens, and persons with immunocompromised diseases such as HIV, cancer, those undergoing steroid treatment, with autoimmune disease, transplant patients, and patients with poor prognosis.

As of November 17, 2,488 health care workers have received booster doses, and around 800,000 adolescents have been vaccinated.

On Friday, the DoH reported 1,485 new Covid-19 cases.

In a related development, Malacañang on Friday clarified that the wearing of face shields may still be mandatory by some private employers or establishments.

Acting Palace spokesman Karlo Alexei Nograles said the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases made the clarification to avoid confusion over the use of face shields.

Nograles said some employers may require their workers to wear face shields in the workplace, and private establishments can require customers to wear them.

President Rodrigo Duterte had approved the optional wearing of face shields optional in areas under the lower Covid-19 alert levels.

Face shields will remain mandatory in areas under Alert Level 5 and granular lockdowns.

In places under Alert Level 4, local government units and private establishments have the discretion to decide on a face shield policy.

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