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Pilot test vaccine bubbles

/ 04:01 AM September 21, 2021

Last week, more than 1,000 business operators called on the government to give fully vaccinated people more leeway to move around, report for work and engage in activities that can contribute to getting the economy going again.

Led by Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion, the businesspeople asked the government to put up “vaccine bubbles” in key areas of the country where economic activity can be revived.

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In this scheme, those who are fully vaccinated can present their vaccination cards to prove they are allowed to travel, dine in restaurants or visit gyms.

This way, certain economic activities can gradually normalize while waiting for the rest of the population to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

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The “bakuna bubble” idea, however, did not sit well with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Health (DOH). They said it might not be effective due to the Delta variant and the possibility that vaccinated people could still get the virus and infect others.

The opposition of the WHO and the DOH is understandable. Since the management of the Delta variant is still a work in progress, they cannot be faulted for turning down proposals that deviate from the guidelines they have adopted to contain the spread of the virus.

Well-meaning the two health authorities may be, the reopening of the economy cannot be put on hold indefinitely or until an acceptable level of herd immunity is reached, an objective that may take some time to achieve because of the limited supply of the vaccine and the refusal of many Filipinos to be vaccinated.

The high level of unemployment caused by the pandemic calls for immediate and effective action by the government before it becomes a serious social problem. The piecemeal grant of ayuda (or financial assistance) to the less fortunate members of our society is grossly insufficient to address that issue.

Worse, the government has admitted it is running short of funds in giving that relief. And reports about companies close to the powers-that-be being awarded contracts to supply billions of pesos worth of overpriced personal protective equipment have made things more discomforting.

The vaccine bubble arrangement has been tried and tested in Japan, Australia and South Korea for travel and outside dining activities and has worked.

This should give some credence to Concepcion’s proposal to pilot test the vaccine bubble concept in a local government in the National Capital Region that has a high vaccination rate.

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Makati City would be ideal for that purpose.

According to reports, the majority of its residents have been vaccinated. What’s more, business conglomerates that hold office in the city have, at their expense, procured the vaccine and had their employees vaccinated already.

The city’s commercial district has clearly delineated business areas, e.g., malls, hotels and restaurants, where, for starters, only the fully vaccinated can be allowed entry or do business under less restrictive health protocols or none at all.

During the test run, business operators in the bubble areas can be tasked to enforce compliance with the vaccination requirement for their staff and customers, and to monitor incidence, if any, of infection in their premises.

It is reasonable to expect business owners to scrupulously do that because any slipups could result in adverse health consequences to their staff and customers.

If the result of the pilot test in Makati is favorable, it can be replicated in other areas in Metro Manila that meet the criterion on high vaccination rate.

In case it does not, business owners, in coordination with the DOH can evaluate things, figure out why the arrangement failed and agree on measures that should be taken to make it succeed.

The idea is to give Concepcion’s proposal a try and see if it will work. The worse thing that can happen if it does not meet expectations is the infected areas would be subjected to granular lockdown. After what the country has gone through in the past 18 months, that’s a small price to pay.

The government has to think out of the box in finding a middle ground between enforcing health measures to keep the virus at bay and making sure the economy operates in a manner that addresses the minimum economic needs of the people. INQFor comments, please send your email

to [email protected]

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