Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Jose Maria "Joey" Concepcion 3rd warned that the Delta variant of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) could hamper economic recovery and prevent the Philippines from having a merrier Christmas this year if its emergence and spread are not prevented.
During the recent Senate trade committee's inquiry on the impacts of Covid-19 on trade, commerce and entrepreneurship sectors, Concepcion stressed that the Delta and the Delta Plus variants were "the most serious variants" that could "really throw a curveball and destroy entire plans" to reopen more sectors of the battered economy.
"So, we have to be careful in opening up, especially our borders, to countries that have a very high level of the Delta variant because if that penetrates the Philippines, then we will definitely not be able to achieve a merry Christmas," he said.
The Go Negosyo founder maintained that the only solution to the pandemic's recessionary impacts was "to solve the health problem," mainly by speeding up the vaccination program.
Concepcion urged Filipinos to do their patriotic duty and get themselves inoculated as soon as the vaccines become available to them.
He said the private sector contributed to the national vaccination effort by bringing in more crucial doses.
"That is the focus of the private sector right now, to together with the government, inoculate as fast as possible," Concepcion said.
"We have to vaccinate more people as fast as possible to try to reach what we call population protection and eventually herd immunity in NCR Plus. If we achieve population protection by September or October, then we can open up more," he added.
Concepcion explained that there was an urgent need for the calibrated reopening of more economic sectors as many businesses, particularly the micro small and medium scale enterprises that account for 99 percent of these registered enterprises, were "losing hope."
He referred to increasing the allowable capacities in commercial establishments and businesses, opening up theaters and coliseums, among others, particularly in the NCR Plus - the National Capital Region (Metro Manila), Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna.
"Money is an issue because many of the banks have held back on lending until they see a picture of the economy as to when we will recover. The situation is that you can't do much when the economy or the business is in an open-closed mode," Concepcion said.
"So how do we get out of this issue? That's where we in the private sector are focusing on right now and the only solution really here is to solve the health problem. That is why we are working closely with the medical advisors of the government so we can come up with a game plan with the objective of achieving a merrier Christmas this coming year and a better 2022," he added.
Concepcion said part of the plan was asking the government to allow the opening of more "safe spaces" to cater to the increasing number of Filipinos fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to spur increased economic activity.
He said these spaces could include seats in hotels and restaurants across the country, which would then mean allowing these establishments to serve more customers as health and safety protocols will not be compromised since the additional guests were safe from Covid-19.
By allowing these establishments to add more seats, the hospitality industry that has suffered greatly from the quarantine restrictions imposed to stop the spread of Covid-19 will be able to bring in badly needed additional revenues, Concepcion said.
The same principle can be applied, he said, as the government calibrates the reopening of other establishments that have remained closed because of Covid-19 fears, including cinemas, bars and even concert or theater halls.
"Our plans hinge basically on the ability of both the private and public sectors, especially local government units, to inoculate as fast as possible, achieve population protection, and possibly the ultimate goal of herd immunity for NCR Plus this year," Concepcion said.
"We have to win this battle. We cannot fail because of the Delta variants that is why we have to be really vigilant and do what must be done to keep that at bay. In the end, we want to save both lives and livelihood and I'm confident that if we do things right, we have a good chance of reviving the economy and opening up the economy much more by the end of this year," he added.
Health officials said the Delta variant, which was first detected in India, and the Delta Plus variant, which reportedly originated in Nepal, are more contagious. It was also said that these variants are "resistant to some vaccines."
So far, 17 cases of the Delta variant have been recorded in the country. Officials said there is no local transmission of the variant yet.