Barring a significant resurgence of COVID-19, there is reason to be optimistic that social and economic activities in the country would return to near prepandemic levels by the third quarter of this year.
The Philippines is now classified as “low risk” in light of the continuing drop in virus infections, according to the Department of Health. This assessment is based on the reduction of COVID-19 cases by as much as 9 percent in the past two weeks.
This development, plus the arrival of more vaccines from abroad, could result in the easing of quarantine measures by the government in select areas of the country.
If that happens, more businesses may be allowed to open or fully operate subject to certain medical protocols, such as the wearing of face masks and regular disinfection of common areas.
That would be cause for rejoicing for millions of Filipinos who lost their jobs due to the lockdown ordered by the government to arrest the spread of the virus.
But this should not be taken to mean the public can lower its guard and act as if the pandemic that has claimed over a million (and counting) lives worldwide is a hiccup that can be conveniently forgotten.
The head of the World Health Organization’s Emergencies Program had warned that the world risked “future pandemics if it suffered ‘amnesia’ and did not learn from the current coronavirus crisis.”
He said, “If we do this again like what we did after SARS, like we did after H5N1, like we did after the H1N1 pandemic, if we continue to ignore the realities of what emerging and dangerous pathogens can do to our civilization, then we are likely to experience the same or worse again within our lifetimes.
“Health should be at the center of investment for any government, both looking at the health and welfare of its population, but just as importantly, having a first line of defense when it comes to emerging disease threats.”
This warning should be food for thought to businesses that, despite the hardships caused by the virus, managed to remain in operation or, if they shut down, are in a position to reopen.
Undoubtedly, it cannot be business as usual or back to the practices of prepandemic days. Some changes or adjustments may have to be made in the manner of doing business.
At the top of the list is the adoption and strict implementation of health or sanitation-related measures in the work premises to ensure the well-being of the employees.
Until COVID-19 hit the country, this matter received scant attention and was left to outsourced janitorial personnel to handle. Worse, to cut down on costs, the lowest number of janitors and cheapest cleaning materials were often contracted for that purpose.
This time, top management may have to give additional attention to this issue and, if needed, allocate more funds to address it.
Corollary to the adoption of health measures, some businesses may have to review their operations to figure out if the presence of some employees in the work premises, other than those assigned to do field work, can be dispensed with in favor of their working from home.
The idea is to limit attendance only to employees who, by the nature of their work, have to be physically present at the workplace.
During last year’s lockdown, some businesses were reported to have experienced high productivity from employees who worked from home (WFH) and because of that have opted to maintain that arrangement in spite of the relaxation of quarantine measures.
In addition, the WFH scheme resulted in lower utilities consumption, transportation expenses and other office-related costs.
To be fair, however, the effectiveness of WFH is dependent on the quality of internet or Wi-Fi connection in the employees’ residence which, to date, remains a challenge to the country’s telcos.
Making changes or adjustments in the workplace to meet the challenges of the so-called new normal would be difficult, but they have to be made if business wants to maintain its standing in our country. It’s a matter of survival. INQ
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