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PHL Must Now Craft a Lockdown Exit Plan

One year into the virus lockdown, it may be wise now for the Philippines to prepare an exit plan that is both backed by our scientists and economic planners. The entire nation cannot be forever under a lockdown regime, especially with the arrival of vaccines on our shores.

 

We can learn from the experience of other countries that are slowly coming out of the Covid-19 bubble. The exit plan should be a calculated one to ensure that we don’t face third or fourth waves of virus infections. Yet, the economy cannot afford further episodes of lockdowns. Granular or selective lockdowns are the preferred routes in curbing the virus infection.

 

I am monitoring the Covid-19 situation in the United Kingdom, one of the nations severely hit by the pandemic. The UK recorded 4.2 million cases as of March 5, 2021, and over 124,000 deaths on a population of 68.1 million, or roughly half the Philippine population.

 

Currently, the UK is heading to the lockdown exit through the unwinding of Covid-19 restrictions. Northern Ireland was the last to agree on loosening lockdown measures after noting a drop in case numbers, per the report in foreign wires and cable channels. The exit plan, however, has a caveat. Northern Ireland is adopting a careful and cautious plan in easing the restrictions. Northern Ireland’s exit strategy will be a deliberate one. As Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill puts it, leisure, travel, sports and church restrictions in Northern Ireland are being eased in phases from lockdown to “cautious first steps, gradual easing, further easing, and preparing for the future.”

 

Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, meanwhile, is thinking of speeding up the exit process. All students, according to her, would return to school partly or full-time basis from March 15, or a week after schools reopen in England.

 

Israel is another nation that is moving toward a lockdown exit after an aggressive vaccination launch. This Middle East nation also suffered a lot, with total cases of close to 800,000 and 5,832 deaths on a relatively small population of 9.2 million. But an aggressive vaccination program has allowed Israel to lift certain restrictions.

 

Over 3.4 million Israelis have received vaccine jabs since December last year. Israel, though, is not lowering its guard against Covid-19. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned his people against complacency. Relaxing the lockdown, he says, does not mean that the rise in morbidity is behind Israel.

 

In the Philippines, the exit lockdown plan should be time-bound. This means policy-makers must agree to a definite date of the full exit after the lifting of restrictions in phases, or regions by regions as the situation warrants, and depending on the vaccination rate.

 

The Philippines can plan the exit strategy, with local government units and their health-care workers serving as a sort of gatekeeper to detect the transmission rate in their locality. The LGUs, down to the barangay level, should be held more accountable for the rise and drop of the virus infection. They should constantly monitor and detect Covid-19 cases in their jurisdictions.

 

In Germany, for example, the country is allowing further re-openings in retail and other areas of public life in areas with fewer than 50 new infections per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period.

 

Achieving herd immunity in the Philippines may take a longer time, depending on the availability and the volume of vaccines being shipped into the country. But I think we can further reopen the economy without waiting for the establishment of herd immunity as long as Filipinos stick to the basic health protocols of social distancing, wearing of facemask, and washing of hands. These protocols have protected the majority of Filipinos and prevented a real spike in virus infections.

 

In the meantime, we should encourage high-profile personalities to receive the initial doses of vaccines being distributed across the country to remove the initial doubts cast on China’s Sinovac. We need all the help we can get to make the vaccination drive a success.