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As GCQ Restarts Economy, Concern Over Infections Among Workers

Bulk of COVID-19 cases are of working age, data shows.
by Joel Guinto
Aug 18, 2020
Photo/s: Jerome Ascaño

More offices will reopen along with public transport on Wednesday, when Metro Manila and its suburbs shift to GCQ. As the workforce slowly and carefully comes back to life, the World Health Organization raised concern over the fact that majority of the country's infection are of working age.

Last week, the Department of Health released a breakdown of cases per age group, including those of working age: 37,188 (20 to 29), 34,700 (30 to 39), 23,939 (40 to 49) and 18,087 (50 to 59). "Sila 'yung lumalabas nagtatrabaho, bumalik sa pamilya, magkakasakit, mag-i-infect ng ibang may sakit (They are the ones who go out to work, come home to their families, get sick and infect others)," Health Usec. Rosario Vergeire had said. 

On the eve of the GCQ, the Department of Health said the Philippines had 169,213 COVID-19 cases.

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"This is particularly concerning as these age groups are more likely to have mild or even no symptoms so they can transmit the virus in vulnerable setting without knowing it," said Tamano Matsui, WHO Program area manager.

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"The epidemic is changing. People in their 20s, 30s and 40s are increasingly driving the threat," Kasai said."Many are unaware they're infected with very mild symptoms or none at all."

"What we are observing is not simply a resurgence. I believe it's a signal that we've entered a new phase of the pandemic in the Asia-Pacific (region)."

WHO data on the current phase of the contagion showed around two-thirds of Japan's infections were among those aged under 40. More than half of the caseloads in the Philippines and Australia were also in that age group.

"We must redouble efforts to stop the virus from moving into vulnerable communities," Kasai said.

Some countries that had brought their outbreaks under control -- such as New Zealand, Vietnam and South Korea -- have detected new clusters, forcing governments to reimpose painful lockdowns on cities and tighten social distancing rules.

But Kasai said the use of targeted interventions in the region was encouraging because it reduced the economic and social impact of containment measures and was more sustainable.

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He warned, however, that the challenge will remain "as long as the virus is circulating and we don't have immunity to it".

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To keep safe when going out of the house for work or for errands, infectious disease experts recommend bringing as few things as possible, wear closed shoes, go cashless, avoid dining out and designate a disinfection area at home.

The Trade and Labor departments issued stricter guidelines on workplace safety to guide employers and employees during the GCQ. Large companies are urged to provide shuttles (where talking and eating are prohibited) and coordinate with authorities on RT-PCR or swab testing

Those returning to work must fill up a health declaration form and undergo temperature scans. Isolation areas must be set up near entrance or exit points. Protocols for transporting the symptomatic employees to the nearest health facility should be in place.

Face shields and face masks will be required at work, as in public transport. Meetings longer than 15 minutes are to be held via videoconference, same for large groups.

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Eating in canteens will be allowed as long as social distancing is observed. There must also be barriers between diners. Buffet-style services are not allowed. Employees must bring their own plates, utensils, and tumblers. Transactions in the cafeteria will be limited to 15 minutes.

-- with reports from Agence France-Presse

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