BAGUIO CITY (02 October 2020) — Government planners gathered here over the weekend to craft the third phase of the government’s national declared policy against COVID-19, which aims to sustain and build on the gains the country have achieved in its fight against the pandemic.

National Task Force against COVID-19 (NTF COVID-19) Chief Implementer Carlito G. Galvez Jr. led representatives of line agencies in identifying the challenges they encountered in the implementation of the first two phases of the National Action Plan (NAP) against COVID-19 and formulating recommendations to address them.

“In NAP Phase 3, we have to ensure the public’s health while reviving our nation’s economy. There will be no more trade-offs,” Galvez, referring to some compromises the government had to make in the early stages of the NAP’s implementation.

National Action Plan: An evolving document

“The pandemic is not linear — it’s dynamic. The NAP is not a static document. It is a plan that must continue to evolve and be refined based on current realities on the ground,” he pointed out.

“We need to continue to recalibrate our efforts according to the needs of local government units, the private sector and the general public. So, we have to find ways to be creative so that our policies are not stringent,” Galvez added.

During the NAP Phase 1’s implementation from March to June 2020, the government carried out strict community quarantine measures which focused on the prevention and containment of the virus, while mitigating its effects on the nation’s economy.

The nationwide lockdown enabled the government to strengthen the country’s healthcare system by scaling up the testing, contact tracing, quarantine and treatment capacity of local government units throughout the country.

NAP Phase 2, on the other hand, remains anchored on the government prevent-detect-isolate-treat-reintegrate (PDITR) strategy, and aims to create a balance between protecting the health of the people, while reviving the nation’s economy.

Galvez said the NAP Phase 3, which seeks to continue implementing the policies issued under the earlier two phases of the plan, will start from the last quarter of 2020 and will carry over until the first quarter of 2021.

Major blow to economy

According to the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the prolonged community quarantine has dealt a severe blow to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) and the economy in general.

NEDA Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon reported that for every week that the community quarantine is imposed in the National Capital Region (NCR), around 0.10 to 0.28 percentage points were being shaved off the nation’s potential annual GDP growth of 6.5%.

Currently, 54.9% of the country is under modified general community quarantine (MECQ), 44.9% under general community quarantine (GCQ) and 0.2% under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).

The implementation of stringent measures under ECQ during the first half of the year further led to the GDP’s contraction. While the gradual reopening off the economy has enabled business establishments to resume operations, Edillon said that more can be done.

“From a consistently strong economic growth, GDP contracted by negative 9% in the first semester of 2020 due to the stringent quarantine measures. As quarantine restrictions were eased, the economic activities had improved gradually but more can be done,” she said.

This is where Recharge PH comes in. The task group that was created specifically to formulate action plans and facilitate the restarting of social and economic activities, while engaging all sectors of society in curbing the spread of the disease.

There are three sub task groups under the Recharge PH: (1) Sub-Task Group Recovery which will engage business and workforce in the fight against COVID-19; (2) Sub-Task Group on Social Recovery which will focus on the improvement of the Filipinos’ capability to thrive under the  new normal; and (3) Sub-Task Group Governance that will ensure a people-centered, clean, technology-abled, and responsive governance in addressing the pandemic.

For his part, NTF on COVID-19 Deputy Chief Implementer Vince Dizon emphasized the need for the country to adapt to new technologies specifically in the area of testing, as these will enable the government to further boost its COVID-19 response efforts.

“Ang kailangan natin talaga bilisan ay yung pag-adapt ng new technologies in testing katulad ng antigen testing, saliva testing, and breath testing. Kapag walang RT-PCR, gamitin natin ang antigen (What we really need is to accelerate the way we adapt to new technologies in testing such as antigen testing, saliva testing and breath testing. If there is no RT-PCR, we must use antigen.), Dizon said.

Re-echoing NEDA Secretary General Sec. Karl Chua’s observation, Dizon said the country has the capability to respond and manage the epidemic, saying “In terms of number of deaths on COVID-19, the response has been effective.”

The deputy chief implementer, however, emphasized that there is still a need to ramp up the nation’s COVID-19 prevention and mitigation measures as the government continues to open the economy.

Kung di natin bubuksan ang ekonomiya, di tayo magnu-new normal, ‘yung mga naka blue na ‘yan na namamatay sa ibang bagay, mas lalo pang tataas (If we don’t open the economy, we will not have a new normal. Those indicated in blue who are dying of other [non-COVID) reasons will continue to rise.),” Dizon said.

“Mahaba pa ‘yung laban pero kayang-kaya po natin. ‘Yun lang medyo mag wrap up tayo at bilis-bilsan lang po natin ng konti (We still have a long way to go but we can handle this one. We just need to wrap [our planning] and speed up [the plan’s implementation],” he said.

Improve critical care for COVID and non-COVID cases

Based on Department of Health data as of September 30, the country has recorded 311,694 COVID-19 cases, 17% or 52,702 of which are active cases.

The DOH, however, noted that the utilization rate of hospital beds allocated for non-COVID 19 cases were relatively higher than those infected with the virus.

In the National Capital Region (NCR), for instance, the utilization rate of hospital beds for COVID-19 cases was placed at 52%, while the utilization rate for non-COVID cases was pegged at 56%.

Galvez urged members of the NTF to focus on increasing the bed capacity of health care facilities for COVID-19 and non-COVID 19 cases, while pushing for the universalization of the country’s healthcare system.

“We need to use this pandemic to accelerate our universalization of our healthcare system. The ICUs remain the same because the non-COVID cases are always there,” he said.

Galvez also reiterated his reminder that home quarantine must be avoided at all costs, as this practice has become one of the major reasons for the spike in COVID-19 local transmissions nationwide.

“No home quarantine should be the rule rather than the exemption. There shall be very strict conditions that must be complied for home quarantine to be allowed,” he said.

Through the government’s Oplan Kalinga, the government has been able to facilitate the transfer of thousands of COVID-19 patients from their homes to temporary treatment and monitoring facilities (TTMPs) throughout the country.

Through the TTMPs, patients receive the appropriate medical attention they need, while having a safe and secure place where they can recover.

According to Department of Public Works and Highways Visna Manio, the agency has so far completed 289 quarantine facilities and offsite dormitories with a total bed capacity of 9,080.

Manio said the DPWH targets to build 689 facilities with a total bed capacity of 24,179 in the coming months.

Moving forward

Meanwhile, National Incident Command-National Task Force Against COVID-19 Undersecretary Isidro L. Purisima emphasized that the NAP Phase 3 should be designed in such a way that it should be directly felt by ordinary people.

“The question we need to address is ‘yong impact ng ating NAP to the ordinary people. It should be people-centered, nationally-supported, and locally-led,” Purisima said.

“The mission of NAP Phase 3 is to sustain our gains from the previous NAP implementation, and focus our intervention both on the economic recovery and public health safety,” he added.

In closing, Galvez reminded the workshop participants to always keep in mind the main objectives of NAP Phase 3.

“For the third phase of the plan, we must continue to sustain the gains we have achieved in the previous phases. To do this, however, we must be able to identify gaps in the NAP’s implementation and find ways to address them,”

“We cannot be complacent at this crucial time. Although there are very good signs that we are flattening the curve as what the up OCTA research center has reported last month, we cannot afford to let our guard down,” he ended. ###