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The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) has proposed a 10-point policy agenda to accelerate the country’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare the country for future pandemics.
During his talk at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) on Wednesday, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua emphasized the need to shift from a pandemic to an endemic paradigm, which will empower Filipinos to learn how to live with the virus.
This shift will be enabled by implementing the proposed 10-point policy that will leverage on the economic gains of 2021, and allow the country to recover to the pre-pandemic level in early 2022.
The 10-point policy agenda covers the following areas: 1) metrics; 2) vaccination; 3) healthcare capacity; 4) economy and mobility; 5) schooling; 6) domestic travel; 7) international travel; 8) digital transformation; 9) pandemic flexibility bill; and 10) medium-term preparation for pandemic resilience.
First, Chua emphasized that in order to facilitate a shift to an “endemic” mindset, the government needs to change the primary metrics used for decision-making and being reported to the public. Instead of total cases and deaths, Chua said metrics should focus on the total severe or critical cases, the case fatality ratio, and total vaccinated.
“Similar to how we do it with the flu, we count those who are severely or critically affected, or are in the hospital, but we do not report anymore the number of mild cases. We should also focus on the case fatality ratio, and of course, the total number vaccinated,” he said.
Chua also highlighted the need to accelerate vaccination by removing artificial barriers, such as categorizations A1 to A5 and unnecessary filling up of forms, and expanding vaccination to children ages 12 to 17 years, and later on to ages 5 to 11 years.
Moreover, on the reopening of the economy, Chua affirmed that the continued implementation of the alert level system and expansion of public transport capacity will be key for the country to attain its 2021 and 2022 growth targets.
“We need to maintain the present alert level system. If there is a local spike, we can impose granular lockdowns. We should not revert to the old way of having general quarantines. This will enable us to achieve our growth targets and reduce the temporary increase in the unemployment and poverty rates,” he said.
To complement this, Chua proposes the removal of most restrictions and requirements, except for the vaccination card and a single QR code for contact-tracing, for fully vaccinated domestic travelers. In addition, the NEDA chief proposed to relax quarantine requirements and establish internationally accepted documents for international travel.
“The general idea after we addressed this new [Omicron] variant is to forego the quarantine for vaccinated passengers from green and yellow listed countries, and remove the flight or passenger daily quota,” he explained.
To close, Chua shared some initiatives under digital transformation, pandemic flexibility, and medium-term planning to prepare the country for future pandemics better. These include pending bills to improve telecommunications services, a pandemic flexibility bill to complement the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, and the development of a “pandemic playbook” to take stock of lessons learned.
“In the early part of 2020, we did not really understand how the virus spreads, so we were mostly risk-averse. But now that we know more about the virus, we have to implement these policies to accelerate and sustain our growth and recovery,” Chua said.