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Business Groups Want To Restrict Unvaccinated Employees

Business Groups Want To Restrict Unvaccinated Employees
A non-San Juan resident gets a COVID-19 shot during the first day of vaccination for those who do not live in the city at Theater Mall in Greenhills Shopping Center on Sept. 14, 2021. Photo by Michael Varcas, The Philippine STAR

Business groups want companies to be allowed by the government to impose restrictions on unvaccinated employees and customers to enable the economy to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

A joint statement was issued on Monday, Oct. 4, by the Bankers Association of the Philippines, Cebu Business Club, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, GoNegosyo, Investment House Association of the Philippines, Makati Business Club, Philippine Business for Education, Philippine Ecozones Association, Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Philippine Re-tailers Association, Subdivision and Housing Developers Association, US-ASEAN Business Council and Women Business Council Philippines.

They said that while everyone should have the right to decide on vaccination, the government and private sector should be able to limit activities of unvaccinated persons for the common good.

“We believe the state should help companies reopen safely to protect and create jobs by allowing them to impose stricter requirements on unvaccinated employees and patrons, and to de-cline unvaccinated job applicants, in the interest of the health and safety of both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated,” the groups said.

They added the government should consider doing the same for its employees.

Allowing restrictions on unvaccinated employees would require a review of the Department of Labor and Employment’s Labor Advisory 03-21 and the COVID-19 Vaccine Procurement Act.

“We support the government’s view that COVID-19 vaccination policies should be more robust in order to save more Filipinos from serious sickness and death and help the economy and jobs to recover,” the groups said.

Citing experts, the business groups said the unvaccinated are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

When they get infected, they are more likely to add strain to the health care system.

Moreover, there is evidence that those yet to receive their shots against COVID-19 may be more potent carriers of the virus, according to the businessmen.

“We encourage companies to exert every effort to provide opportunities for unvaccinated employees to get vaccinated and do what they can to accommodate them (and others who cannot be vaccinated for valid medical reasons) in the interim, in a way that does not compromise their health and safety and that of other employees,” the groups said, at the same time calling on the government to further facilitate access to vaccines.

Meanwhile, Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat expressed full support to President Duterte’s call to lessen the quarantine period required for fully vaccinated international travelers entering the country.

“This is a crucial step towards the eventual resumption of international travel once our borders reopen, leading to the recovery of the pandemic-hit sector,” Puyat added.

She said the department has been pushing for this since last May, when it set up green lanes with countries that have zero to low COVID-19 transmission.

‘Downtrend may be artificial’

The Department of Health (DOH) is looking into the possibility that the decline in COVID-19 cases in the past weeks is superficial, an official said.

At a press briefing, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire noted that they are thoroughly studying whether or not the current downward trend in cases is real.

“I cannot give a definite answer for now if there had already been a peak in cases or if this decline is really confirmed. We are studying if this decline is artificial or not,” she added.

Vergeire said one factor that they are eyeing is the decrease in output of laboratories doing reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests.

DOH data showed that daily tests being conducted by laboratories were down by 11.8% compared to the previous seven days of Sep. 18 to 24.

It was also observed that the positivity rate had been reduced from 24% of all swab samples tested to 22%.

The official underscored that 14 regions had “less number of RT-PCR tests done in the recent week versus the previous week.”

The largest decline was for the National Capital Region where from 266,042, it was lowered by 37,383 tests, or 14.1%.

“We are still assessing the reasons for this decline and if this reflects a true decline in cases or is affected by other factors,” she added.

Such factors include the ongoing active finding and contact tracing and the use of rapid antigen test to complement the RT-PCR test.

According to Vergeire, the declining trend does not reflect on the number of COVID-19 patients being admitted in hospitals.

She cited that the national intensive care unit utilization rate remains “high risk” at 73%.

“Those going to hospitals are still high. We have to balance because we don’t want to give false hope to the public,” Vergeire maintained. ?– With Michael Punongbayan, Sheila Crisostomo