Pandemic exit strategy must include boosting healthcare, says expert

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 25 2022 01:54 AM

Children ages 5 to 11 visit the vaccination site at the Marikina City Sports Complex on February 15, 2022. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File
Children ages 5 to 11 visit the vaccination site at the Marikina City Sports Complex on February 15, 2022. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA—An expert on Thursday pushed government to sustain the Philippines' vaccination drive and enhance the country's healthcare system as part of the nation's exit strategy from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, a biomolecular expert and member of the OCTA Research group, said the Philippines must achieve its target of vaccinating 80% of the country's population, including senior citizens and minors, and use incentives and penalties if necessary.​

"These hybrid immunity is so important because in these other countries when they removed all of their minimum public health standards, that's (immunity) all you have left. And the numbers are still going down precisely because of this immune protection. We have to do the same thing," Austriaco said during a town hall organized by GoNegosyo.

Until the vaccination and booster program is finished, he urged officials to maintain vaccine passport regulations while gradually moving the country's inoculation program from the state to the private sector "to keep it sustainable for the years to come."

He also emphasized the need to strengthen the Philippines' healthcare infrastructure, suggesting ways, such as standards establishment of home treatment and purchase of anti-virals for COVID-19 patients.

Austriaco also recommended creating specialized healthcare institutions, both public and private, focused on treating COVID-19 patients and executing strategies to increase the number of medical workers in the country.

He also pushed for the education of Filipinos on COVID-19 and "preparation for the next global pandemic."

RETURN TO NORMALCY

The country's children have to return to school full-time but they have to be vaccinated first, along with their teachers and school staff, Austriaco said.

"I think it's really important that we require vaccinations for everyone in the school because students, including little ones, can be superspreaders," he added.

Ventilation and air filtration in classrooms should be improved and teachers and parents should be taught about monitoring and isolating for COVID-19, Austriaco said.

Rapid antigen testing should also be provided at schools, including a guide how to use them, he added. 

Such methods can also be used in workplaces, Austriaco said. He recommended revising company policies to encourage legitimate self-isolation. 

"Otherwise, employees may not self-isolate and contaminate the workplace.," he said.

DE-ESCALATION

Austriaco recommended 4 stages to de-escalate the COVID-19 policies in the Philippines:

  • Remove the social distancing requirement in areas under COVID-19 Alert Level 1;
  • End the mask requirement outdoors but retain it indoors and on public transport;
  • Stop the mask requirement for non-customer facing employees
  • Halt the mask requirement for all employees

"Minimum public health standards can be returned during COVID season and if pandemic alert levels require them," he added.

Metro Manila mayors earlier urged the inter-agency task force (IATF) to place the capital region under Alert Level 1 beginning March 1.

Last week, Malacañang said officials were "finalizing" the road map regarding the loosest lockdown restriction. 

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