DTI Secretary Ramon M. Lopez speaking to the media during a press conference

MANILA – Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the guidelines jointly issued by the Departments of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Labor and Employment (DOLE) allowing the private sector to operate during the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and General Community Quarantine (GCQ) will manage the risks of COVID-19 transmission even as it opens up the country’s economy.

“More sectors will be allowed to open and operate within a controlled environment as long as they implement health protocols and standards to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We want to ensure that we don’t lose the gains we’ve achieved under the ECQ period,” Sec. Lopez said.

“The guidelines we have set will not only ensure the safety and health of our workers. More importantly, they are meant to enhance their productive capacity by eliminating risks in the workplaces,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III explained.

He added, “The full cooperation between employers and workers in observing the new protocols is a necessary element in transitioning the workplaces into the new normal.

Sec. Lopez further emphasized that it is important to reopen the economy, and the key factor is to increase Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)-testing capacity—which is the gold standard in testing against COVID-19—to continue to lower the country’s infection or transmission rate.

“This will give us confidence that the threat of infection rate can be better controlled and managed,” he said.

The DTI-DOLE guidelines shall apply to all workplaces, employers, and workers in the private sector, and are aligned with the objectives of the minimum health standards of the Department of Health (DOH) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the requirements are the wearing of facemasks, the submission of a daily health symptoms questionnaire, and the constant checking of temperature. Likewise, equipment and vehicles entering operation areas should undergo disinfection process, and physical distancing must be observed in any long queues outside the office or store premises.

The guidelines also set the standard procedure for employers on what to do if a worker or employee is suspected of having COVID-19, ranging from the isolation of the worker or employee, the protection of clinic personnel with Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), the decontamination of the workplace and the PCR testing of the employee. There should be an arrangement with testing facilities and laboratories as well as proper health insurance coverage.

“Not all workers need to be tested and the protocol is that they should fill up a health declaration. If they’ve been exposed to a patient positive for COVID-19 or if they’re feeling unwell, that’s the time it should be protocol for them to be isolated and get PCR-tested,” Sec. Lopez said.

He clarified that the PCR-testing is important but it must be targeted first to those who are what we refer to now as COVID-19 suspects. Sec. Lopez added, however, that companies always have the option to PCR test all their workers prior to reporting.

Inside the workplace, all work areas shall be cleaned and disinfected regularly at least every two hours, while sanitizers, clean water, and soap shall be made available for use. Gathering and eating together in communal areas is discouraged, and physical distancing should always be practiced in office workstations or in operational areas.

Alternative work arrangements like working-hour shifts and work-from-home (WFH) are also encouraged when feasible and on a rotation basis. Prolonged face-to-face interaction between workers and clients are discouraged. Meetings needing physical presence shall be kept to a minimum number of participants and with a short duration. Instead, videoconference should be utilized for lengthy discussions.

In workplaces with high risk of infection like in healthcare and other frontline services, workers should take extra precautionary measures such as strict hygiene and the use of PPEs.

Sec Lopez stressed, “While the need to reopen the economy to bring back jobs is urgent, we have to be extra careful because a second wave of the COVID-19 will be costlier. These guidelines will help us manage these risks.”♦

Date of Release: 03 May 2020