In response to the reports of COVID-19 infections in workplaces around the country, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) hosted a series of webinars to tackle issues and concerns related to COVID-19 in the workplace last 1-4 September 2020. Attended by 4,074 participants at peak attendance and 3,708 in sustained attendance, the webinar series provided a venue for discourse between workers and stakeholders in both private and public sectors on COVID-19 issues and concerns in the workplace. Speakers were subject-matter experts from World Health Organization Philippines (WHO), PEZA, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Harte Hanks, Adriste Philippines Inc., PeoplePods, and Maxim Integrated.
Webinar participants represented major industrial and commercial districts in Metro Manila and Metro Cebu, which had begun to operate again, after months of closure under quarantine restrictions. Both urban centers were considered the biggest COVID-19 hotspots in the country.
“This webinar is a big help as we push for the reopening of more businesses to get our economy back to its feet,” PEZA Director General Charito Plaza said, in closing Day 1.
Preventing Workplace Transmission
Workers from all over the country who attended the webinar via Zoom and Youtube Live asked for advice on physically returning to work in a safe manner, including for confirmed cases and their close contacts. WHO reiterated the minimum risk of infection following compliance with the DOH requirements for prevention of transmission and for isolation following infection.
“It is important that recovered patients and their close contacts who reintegrate into their communities and workplaces continue to wear masks, maintain physical distancing, clean their hands frequently and avoid the three Cs (crowded, closed and close-contact settings) just like everyone else. People with no symptoms and negative tests may have COVID-19, and can spread it,” Dr. Rajendra Prasad Yadav of WHO Philippines said.
Earlier in August, the DOLE and DTI issued the Joint Memorandum Circular No. 20-04 to supplement the one put out by DOH in May on Interim Guidelines on Return to Work. The government memorandum provided guidelines for employers to ensure workplace safety and health via increased mental and physical resilience and reduction of physical contact and gatherings of employees, among others.
The webinar was able to answer questions on workplace infections including aerosol transmissions and common infection routes. Speakers advised for stringent environmental disinfection, while emphasizing to workers the importance of self-monitoring and observance of health protocols especially mask wearing and physical distancing. They were reminded that exposure may occur anytime, as they travel to and from the workplace, and while they are at work.
“Individually, we need to take command of our protective measures against COVID. If we do so, we are protecting everyone else in the workplace and elsewhere,” Dr. Miguel Mantaring of the Department of Health said to webinar participants.
Both webinar participants and resource speakers agreed that there should be better implementation of contract tracing and quarantine procedures for workers, including proper identification of and coordination with close contacts and their families. Companies were thus encouraged to establish and maintain reporting mechanisms with the Department of Health and their local government for tracking and validation of data especially on confirmed cases and close contacts.
According to Department of Trade and Industry undersecretary Ireneo Vizmonte: “Employers and employees have an important role in reducing transmission, providing a better health capacity system, and mitigating the social impact (of workplace infections).”
This sentiment is echoed by the webinar participants, with one submitting this feedback: “Not all preventive measures being publicized by the media are applicable to us in the workplace. This webinar gave us a better idea on how we ourselves as workers can prevent the spread of the virus.”
In a post-webinar survey, seventy percent of the participants reported being very satisfied, particularly with the technical expertise of the resource speakers. Over ninety percent recommended that similar webinars be conducted again to bigger audiences across the regions. Workers are considered among the most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection, more so those in enclosed spaces or in close proximity with others.