Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez on Sunday said his agency was mulling a proposal to ask anti-COVID authorities to allow reopening of gyms at 10 percent capacity while Metro Manila remained under Alert Level 4 until September 30.
Under this alert level system, only restaurants and salons are allowed to open at limited capacity.
Meanwhile, the government is aiming to vaccinate all five million tourism workers against COVID-19 before the end of the year, the National Task Force Against COVID-19 said Sunday.
NTF Chief Implementer and Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez Jr. has approved an allocation of 20,000 doses per week for tourism workers, with more vaccines arriving in the regions.
Weekly allocations will cover hotel and resort employees, as well as workers in restaurants, airports, and those part of the informal economy doing business in tourist destinations, Galvez added.
Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera on Sunday appealed to authorities to allow the operation of small-time mental health and physical fitness establishments that could not afford “expensive high-tech devices” to meet the Department of Trade and Industry standards.
“I appeal to the Inter-Agency Task Force, DTI and their panels of experts to keep in mind that the fitness centers, private gyms and wellness centers are mostly small businesses, many without air-conditioning, but can open their wide windows and turn on their electric fans,” she said.
“These small businesses cannot afford the high-tech anti-COVID devices the DTI has reportedly been looking into,” Herrera added.
Lopez said on Dobol B TV they were proposing to the IATF to allow reopening of gyms “because of the principle of exercise (which) helps increase immunity.”
He added they might also require gyms to put up air purifiers.
As for wearing of face shields, Lopez said the guidelines were already completed but would be released "as soon as possible."
Despite President Rodrigo Duterte's announcement of relaxing the face shields policy, the IATF has yet to publish its guidelines on wearing the face shields.
Duterte said face shields would only be worn in areas closed, crowded, and for close contact.
A wind engineer previously warned that face shields might be a factor in increasing exposure to coronavirus disease because particles of the virus are known to stay in the surrounding air.
Vice President Leni Robredo and Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso have also questioned the requirement and purchase of wearing face shields.
“When the pandemic struck, the nation’s tourism sector took a major hit. We believe that in order for the industry to get back on its feet and safely open our economy, we need to vaccinate as many members of our workforce as possible,” Galvez said.
He said the government plans to boost its vaccination program for tourism workers in the regions, especially in Cebu where 50% have already been vaccinated, and 99% are expected to be injected before Christmas.
“By providing our workers here in Cebu with an extra layer of protection against the virus, they will have more confidence to return to their jobs, which in turn, shall encourage tourism operators to increase their operational capacity and result in an economic revival here in the province,” said Galvez.
Out of the 27 million confirmed vaccine doses to be delivered in the country, 20 million have been allocated for the regions — 317,144 doses for the Cebu province; 60,960 for Cebu City; 40,220 for Mandaue City; and 29,310 for Lapu-Lapu City.
Hotel Resort and Restaurant Association of Cebu President Alfred Reyes, who reaffirmed the group’s commitment to assist the government in its vaccination program, welcomed the inoculation plan.
“Restarting the industry relies on the success of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, which requires voluntary individual participation to reduce the risk of both host and visitors,” he said.
“Vaccination is one of the key factors that can help revive both domestic and international tourism,” he added.
Meanwhile, Herrera said fitness centers, private gyms and wellness centers as well other small businesses could reopen safely with free and frequent antigen-based testing, proper ventilation, exhaust fans, indoor fans, frequent disinfection, two-meter physical distancing and proper personal hygiene measures.
“Please keep in mind that those high-tech gyms are multi-million (peso) operations but the small ones at the barangay level are not,” she stressed.
“Please consider that these fitness centers, private gyms, and wellness centers should be considered essential businesses because what the people badly need now is resilient health against Covid,” she noted.