Restaurant owners want vaccine pass for immunized senior citizens

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 25) — Restaurants hit hard by the pandemic are seeking to turn the tables by implementing a vaccine pass system that would increase their operational capacity.

In a Senate hearing Tuesday on the government's relief measures for various industries, Restaurant Owners of the Philippines president Eric Teng lamented why people above 65 years old, even after getting their COVID-19 shots, are still not allowed to dine in restaurants. He said immunized senior citizens are priority in their proposal to issue vaccine passes.

"We have been in dialogue with our mayors and the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) and we are requesting for something called the bakuna badge. It's like a vaccine pass but it's non-discriminatory and our first goal is to bring out the vaccinated senior citizens," Teng said.

The group hopes it can be implemented by July. Teng stressed that their version of the vaccine pass would not discriminate against those who have not been inoculated.

"We are not excluding customers from coming into our restaurants whether they are vaccinated or not. But for now, the 65 year old are discriminated against because they are not allowed," Teng said.

"What we're hoping is if government limits us to 20% (indoor capacity), to grant us another 20% for the vaccinated… We just want additional capacity for the vaccinated so that we can hire back our people," he explained.

Senator Imee Marcos, chair of the committee on economic affairs, as well as Senator Cynthia Villar, questioned the health policy of preventing senior citizens from going out.

"It's [ironic] that you will give priority to them and you will not allow them to go out," Villar said. "What's the use? Ang labo noon, di ba (It doesn't make sense, right)?"

"I'm really perplexed by that DOH (Department of Health) announcement," Marcos said.

Senator Nancy Binay explained that senior citizens were second in the vaccination priority list, next to health workers, because they are at high risk of severe illness or even death from COVID-19. Those vaccinated have protection against severe COVID-19 but can be "spreaders" of the virus, Binay added.

Binay, chair of the Senate committee on science and technology, said food service workers should soon be vaccinated as part of the A4 group, but Teng said not everyone is willing to roll up their sleeves.

The restaurant owners are planning to launch a program that will give promos and discounts to anyone who has been vaccinated to encourage more people to get the shot.

In the meantime, the group is calling for tax holidays and timely announcements of community quarantine rules.

"We are waiting with bated breath for those midnight TV announcements before we make our pronouncement with our members and we have 48 hours to change them," Teng said.

Metro Manila and nearby provinces are under general community quarantine with "heightened restrictions" until May 31. The inter-agency task force against COVID-19 has been adjusting policies under the different quarantine levels.