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This CEO of a Listed Company Has Some Practical Suggestions to Address the Pandemic

“It’s time to focus on the right issues,” says Fruitas founder and CEO Lester Yu.
ILLUSTRATOR WARREN ESPEJO
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With over 800,000 recorded cases of COVID-19 infections in the country as of April 5, it’s not inconceivable to think that the Philippines will hit one million cases soon. According to the Department of Health, the number of active cases of the virus is at 143,726 after 8,355 new cases were logged on Monday. Of that number, about 97.5 percent are mild, 1.1 percent are asymptomatic, 0.5 percent are critical, and 0.6 percent are in severe condition.

The sharp increase in cases over the past week has led to an extension of the enhanced community quarantine to Sunday, April 11.

All this has led to an undeniable impact on the country’s economy. Lester Yu, the founder and CEO of listed company Fruitas Inc. came out with an open letter with some practical suggestions to combat the virus and help businesses recover.

Yu founded Fruitas in 2002 and took it public in 2019. As of the end of 2019, the company has over 1,000 food stalls, carts, and kiosks nationwide. It operates multiple brands, including Black Pearl, Buko Loco, Buko ni Fruitas, House of Fruitas, De Original Jamaican Pattie Shop and Juice Bar, Johnn Lemon, Juice Avenue, Sabroso Lechon, Tea Rex, and The Mango Farm. It reported a net income of over P121 million on the back of revenues of P1.945 billion in 2019.

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In his letter, Yu said it was important to address COVID “but cannot risk economic collapse and a lost generation.” 

“The previously imposed and current lockdowns have inadvertently crippled the economy, closing down major businesses, thereby affecting the income of countless Filipino workers and ruthlessly affecting our families as well,” he says. “It has also created a vicious cycle—depressed jobless men sitting at home who are more prone to be hit with a multitude of other diseases that eventually kills him.”

He proposed an eight-point list of suggestions that takes into account the very real problem of increasing number of infections as well as the lockdown’s impact on the economy. Read his full letter here:

Change of perspective required: COVID-19 has been beaten by 98% of Filipinos infected by it   

Greetings, my fellow countrymen. Mabuhay tayong lahat! 

I hope this letter finds you all well. We are aware that we are in the midst of an unprecedented worldwide pandemic that our generation has not seen before. However, this is merely one aspect of the problem that affects Juan Dela Cruz.  

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The previously imposed and current lockdowns have inadvertently crippled the economy, closing down major businesses, thereby affecting the income of countless Filipino workers and ruthlessly affecting our families as well. It has also created a vicious cycle – depressed jobless men sitting at home who are more prone to be hit with a multitude of other diseases that eventually kills him.

First world country solutions may not work for us since our population is uniquely Filipino and bigger than our Western counterparts and sad to say, our national budget is smaller to sustain the adoption of first world country solutions. Our problems are real and unique to us, so we have to solve them in our own time and in our own terms. 

I humbly propose some suggestions which would somehow hopefully address the other relevant social issues we are facing.

1| Re-evaluate the communication strategy

COVID-19 death rate in the Philippines is only two percent. Numbers also show that of the total COVID-positive cases in the Philippines, 96 perent are mild cases and two percent are asymptomatic. More than 98 percent of the cases in the Philippines recover from COVID with little or no issue, much like an ordinary flu. The deaths and gravity of the pandemic should never be devalued, but we should not sacrifice the whole economy.

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An economic collapse will be more catastrophic than mild cases of COVID. The negative communication strategy must be stopped and the fact that COVID has been beaten by 98 percent of Filipinos infected by it must be emphasized. It is time to look at science, data and the numbers. The more than 10 million unemployed and underemployed Filipinos plus a couple of millions who will enter the labor force and may not find employment is the more pressing issue.  We must address COVID but cannot risk economic collapse and a lost generation. It is time to focus on the right issues.

We are in the right direction to focus on the vaccine rollout—the communication strategy should focus on the vaccine rollout and how it can bring back some normalcy to Filipinos’ lives.

We need positive news in order to bring back consumer confidence. Several cities have started mass vaccination. Hopefully, we can do it fast enough to reach the most number of people.

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Businesses were slowly improving before sales declined again due to negative news last week from rising number of COVID-19 cases.  With the liquor ban and curfew being re-imposed, sales further took a hit. Some food and beverage establishments have even reported zero sales.

2| Is the liquor ban helping?

Tanduay, Emperador and Ginebra registered higher profits in 2020. (These are) three of the very few companies that did better in 2020 versus 2019. People find a way. The restaurant sector was one of the most hard-hit. I take the occasional wine during supper with family and friends, but we never got the virus. A direct link between liquor ban and preventing COVID-19 has not been made.

However, the liquor ban and curfew have greatly affected business revenues and employment. Establishments would cut work shifts, hence daily wagers will not receive compensation. 

Suggestion: Limit groups from 4 to 50pax (numbers in a group are examples only) depending on the alert status of COVID-19.   

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3| Dining-in should not be disallowed

Very few people dine-in (in restaurants) already. Disallowing dine-in is the final nail in the coffin. There’s no more demand right now. If this situation continues, business enterprises shall surely close and more people will lose jobs. This can lead to employees’ lack of money to pay tuition, their kids being forced to stop schooling, and more follow-on problems. 

Suggestion: Establishments just need to follow protocols set by the IATF. While no specific statistics have been taken, dine-in under strict protocols has probably led to very little or no cases. Dine-in may be even be safer than commuting, where you sometimes see congestion because of lack of public transport. Dining hours can be capped at 11 p.m. or 12 midnight. However, employees should still be able to go home safely; thus, transport should be 24 hours. If workers would need to bike or walk home (which would take at most two hours) then they will be so tired, compromising their immune system and making them susceptible to all sorts of illnesses (not only COVID).

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4| Curfews should be lifted

Curfews disrupt the flow and routine of businesses, especially restaurants. With the lack of public transportation at night, restaurants need to close early so that employees can catch the last trip of public utility vehicles. Who will eat in restaurants that will rush customers to leave early?

Suggestion: Lift the curfew. COVID-19 does not travel faster at night and does not get more infectious. In fact, if we allow people to travel freely anytime of the day and night (24 hours) then there will be less crowd and congestion; hence, less chance of transmission.

Business activities should be allowed to operate freely in order to revive the economy. We cannot stop huge portions of the economy because our country does not have enough funds to subsidize the people’s livelihood. We really need to co-exist with this nasty virus in order to support ourselves but the government policies should be supportive, too. Perhaps, we have to re-think just employing the same strategies (lockdown, curfew, and liquor bans). Several businesses already went bankrupt or are in the intensive care unit and further curtailing their operations will place them in the morgue sooner than later. 

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Photo by Fruitas.

5| Bring back face-to-face schooling, with proper health protocols

Kids are developing bad habits; they are no longer used to maintaining the discipline of preparing for school. We are developing a generation of virtually addicted kids. They watch YouTube while in class. They send Viber messages to classmates while the teacher is lecturing.  

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Suggestions: Open face-to-face schooling as long as minimum health protocols are imposed.  Kids are not vulnerable and almost 100 percent of the cases affecting children are mild.

6|People of all ages should be allowed to go out

There should be no age limit. We should allow people of all ages, as long as they are healthy, to go out if they want to go out, especially if it is for productive activities like exercise, work, family bonding etc. Jailing our youth and seniors will create a lot of other illnesses. We are raising a generation of virtually addicted kids who think that the world is in their gadgets and computers. Some seniors are already experiencing anxiety and depression.

7| Hospital capacity

In order not to overwhelm our health care workers, there must be an information campaign to inform Filipinos that they do not have to panic and rush to the hospital if they are COVID-19 positive. Like any viral infection, our body’s immune system will naturally fight COVID. The key is to boost our immune system with healthy food and drinks, like what we learned in elementary school.  On the other hand, citizens must also be advised of the thresholds when they need to go to the hospital (e.g., difficulty in breathing).  

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Resources must be focused on healing the two percent moderate to critical cases. If our hospitals will not be overwhelmed by panicking and stressed mild cases, then, our hospitals will be able to attend better to the two percent moderate to critical cases; hence, chances of survival will be higher.

8| Trace, isolate & treat

Testing efforts cannot be constrained by lack of availability of RT-PCR testing. Once somebody has symptoms, 20-minute swab antigen tests (which have a 90% accuracy rate), can be used so that results are available immediately. If the test yields a positive result, the person can be isolated immediately for two weeks. We cannot wait for the results of a RT-PCR test, which may take up to 7 days, before implementing isolation as it defeats the purpose of testing and tracing.

Contact tracing must also be immediately done and swab antigen tests can also be conducted on all contacts. During quarantine, persons under isolation must be supported with care, and provided healthy food and drinks.

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These are merely some suggestions for the love of our country and our people. The suggestions are in no way perfect and need to be finetuned, but I hope these trigger a discussion and solutions are fleshed out, so that in the near future, we shall all smile and rise again.

Esquire Philippines made minor edits on Mr. Lester Yu’s letter for clarity.

 

 

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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