Solstice is where the sun reaches the maximum or minimum declination once or twice a year. As the new year brings forth opportunities to make a fresh start, it also carries the burden of the mistakes done in the past. Gone are the days when we were left defenseless against the invisible enemy, but come the seasons of facing a new possible threat. Scientists from different parts of the world have been diligently taking part in their mission to formulate an effective vaccine to end the pandemic. Through their dedication and effort, the world now has a cure for the virus. At the same time, our economy is also slowly recovering from its downfall. Will we finally see the bright light at the end of the tunnel? Or will we, once again, find a way to create our own demise?
A New Force Awakens
To start the year 2021, the Philippines has counted 475,820 confirmed COVID-19 cases, inclusive of the addition of 1,765 additional cases on the first day of the year alone.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has updated its advisory to overseas Filipinos with plans on traveling back to the country. A travel ban has been imposed from or transit via the 20 countries with the new COVID-19 variant until January 15.
Filipinos from the affected countries are expected to undergo and complete a strict mandatory 14-day quarantine at a Department of Health (DOH)-approved facility, regardless of negative RT-PRC results.
In a statement sent to the media, the DOH refuted claims of the alleged presence of the new COVID-19 variant in the country that is believed to be more contagious, saying that all specimens from countries with cases of the UK variant are still to undergo genome sequencing beginning January 4.
Senator Risa Hontiveros urged the Philippine government to include China in its travel ban after the new variant of COVID-19 was detected there. She further stated that the government should learn from last year’s repercussions of not imposing a travel ban immediately.
On the other hand, Mayor Joy Belmonte, mayor of Quezon City, confirmed entry to a deal of securing 750,000 doses of AstraZeneca, the COVID-19 vaccine developed by a British-Swedish firm.
A traveler from the Philippines arrived in Hong Kong via Philippine Airlines flight PR300 on December 22 and has tested positive for the new virus strain of COVID-19 a while after reaching the destination. Meanwhile, the DOH and the Philippine Genome Center firmly stated that the presence of B.1.1.7 strain in the country has not yet been detected and has not reached the Philippine shores yet.
On a good note, Carlito Galvez Jr, the appointed vaccine czar, mentioned that the vaccine doses will be supplied by “more or less” 7 manufacturers for an initial 50 to 70 million Filipinos in 2021.
The Best Defense is a Good Offense
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said that local governments that are able to secure their own COVID-19 vaccines are still required to abide by the national government’s prioritization of sectors that will be first in line for inoculation.
The national government plans to prioritize regions or provinces with high COVID-19 transmissions and then target certain vulnerable sectors in those areas, starting with medical and government front liners, indigent senior citizens, other senior citizens, other indigents, and military and police.
The DOH stated that aside from the UK variant, it is also monitoring other variants of the virus found in South Africa and Malaysia.
In a virtual press briefing on Friday morning, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the DOH will continue its surveillance after the Philippine Genome Center did not find the presence of the COVID-19 variants in the 305 samples it tested.
DOST Undersecretary Rowena Guevara said that the World Health Organization (WHO) has asked the Philippines to expand its target number of participants for solidarity vaccine trials from 4,000 to 15,000. Trials, earlier pegged for 2020, could start by the end of January at the earliest.
The Bangsamoro government has set aside P500 million of its recently-passed 2021 budget for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccine doses.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros told the Duterte administration to release its contingency plan in the face of reports that the more contagious UK variant of COVID-19 is already in the Philippines. Specifically, she said the country’s hospitals should be ready, for example, if COVID-19 cases jump to 300,000 a month – or “almost all of our 2020 infections in a single month.”
In line with this, ten relatives of the 30-year-old overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Hong Kong who was infected with the UK variant of the coronavirus all tested negative for COVID-19 in antigen and rapid tests.
On the topic of the vaccine, the Philippine government entered a deal to secure the supply of 30 million doses of Covovax vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII), which is expected to be available by the 3rd quarter of 2021.
PH logs over 2,000 COVID-19 cases for the first time since the holidays as the DOH reports 2,052 cases, pushing the Philippines’ total infections to 489,736.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced that the country will receive 25 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Sinovac as early as next month. The first batch of vaccine will come in 50,000 doses, another 950,000 doses will be provided by March, one million each for April and May, two million in June, until 25 million doses are secured by year-end.
The DOH identified a total of 4,512 fixed COVID-19 vaccination posts in the whole country.
The government mentioned that Filipinos living in certain provinces in the Philippines will likely miss out on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine because of the lack of ultracold-storage facilities.
The Philippines finally imposed travel restrictions on China nearly two weeks after the Asian giant detected its first case of the new COVID-19 virus variant.
Apart from China, the same restrictions were announced for Jamaica, Luxembourg, Oman, and Pakistan, but the ban will last for only two days.
The DOH, together with the Philippine Genome Center, confirmed that the B.1.1.7. SARS-CoV-2 variant, also known as the UK variant, has been detected after samples from a Filipino who returned home from the United Arab Emirates on Jan. 7 yielded positive genome sequencing results.
Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Romualdez confirmed that the government is now in the final stages of negotiation with American biotechnology company Moderna for the procurement of up to 20 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccines.
Moderna’s vaccines may be expected for delivery to the Philippines in mid-2021.
The DOH said that it will recommend the inclusion of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the list of the Philippines’ travel ban. This came after samples from a 29-year-old Filipino male who arrived from the UAE on January 7 yielded positive genome sequencing results.
The Philippines secured another 17 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from British-Swedish pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca.
Following the detection of the United Kingdom (UK) COVID-19 variant in the Philippines, the DOH said that all inbound travelers who test positive for COVID-19 are being tested for the more infectious variant of the virus.
In relation to this, the DOH stated that authorities have already contacted 92% or 146 of 159 of the co-passengers of the 29-year-old Filipino who got infected with the more infectious UK COVID-19 variant.
The DFA has warned the public against “travel exemption” scams preying on foreigners who want to enter the Philippines.
Senator Richard Gordon said he will file a bill on training more Filipinos to administer vaccines. Filipinos to be included are those in the medical field like dentists, veterinarians, medical technologists, and even those who do not have a medical background.
State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced that China promised to donate half a million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines in a bilateral meeting with Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr.
Opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan said the Philippines should not settle for “puwede na” or mediocre COVID-19 vaccines, and Vice President Leni Robredo stressed that Filipinos have the right to ask about vaccine costs, especially if the money comes from public coffers.
On this day, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said that Filipinos who managed to get administered with a COVID-19 vaccine and wish to enter the Philippines will still need to undergo quarantine.
In just twenty days within this month, The Bureau of Customs (BOC) stated that it began preparations for the entry of approved vaccines into the country as early as a week ago, in coordination with other government agencies, facilities, and regulatory agencies.
Thirteen people who came in contact with the Philippines’ first known coronavirus case with the new, more transmissible variant have tested positive for COVID-19, the DOH said on Wednesday. The list includes co-passengers, household members, and a front liner who attended to the patient.
The DOH wants 5th day testing for inbound travelers amid new COVID-19 variants. Health officials said a second round of testing 5 days after the arrival of travelers will provide an additional layer of protection against COVID-19 transmission in the country.
Senator Pia Cayetano filed Senate Bill No. 1999 which aims to create a vaccine passport initiative that will set up a database registry of individuals who had been inoculated including their vaccination details as well as to monitor vaccine distribution and its effects.
It was at the start of lockdown, the Department of Justice leadership used Republic Act No. 11332 to warn that quarantine violators can be arrested without a warrant. In clearing Senator Koko Pimentel, prosecutors said the law only covers health officials.
After months of lockdown, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases announced an easing of its requirement that allowed travelers from countries with the new COVID-19 virus variant to strictly observe a 14-day quarantine period, regardless of the swab test result.
The Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC) said it has allocated P400,000 ($8,300) from its 2021 budget to buy COVID-19 vaccines for its employees. CIAC president Aaron Aquino said in a statement that he is hoping that this modest initiative of CIAC helps the government in its continued efforts to fight COVID-19.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte upped the ante in his expression of appreciation for soldiers’ sacrifices by promising them a most sought-after service – prioritization for their families in the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program.
After getting the nod from the DOH, the PRC started its cheaper, faster, and easier saliva-based coronavirus testing.
Coronavirus saliva testing is priced at P2,000 per test, which is P1,800 cheaper than swab testing. Individuals would have to spit inside a sterile 1-milliliter vial that is sealed and documented for results. They should not eat, drink, gargle, smoke, or vape 30 minutes before the test, Gordon said.
Education will not be halted even in a pandemic as the government said in a press briefing that medical and allied health science programs in MGCQ areas or those in GCQ areas with base COVID-19 hospitals may soon resume physical classes.
On the side of local news, Mayor Vico Sotto announced that Pasig City is the first local government unit (LGU) in the country to have an approved vaccination plan.
The Department of Health-Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (DOH-RITM) warned the public against unscrupulous individuals posing as RITM employees offering swabbing services and issuing falsified COVID-19 confirmatory test results.
The Central Luzon and Pampanga offices of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) both located in San Fernando, Pampanga, were temporarily closed after some personnel contracted COVID-19. In addition to this, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said that the Department of Foreign Affairs headquarters will be on lockdown after some of its employees tested positive for COVID-19.
AstraZeneca was among the few companies that have so far expressed willingness to enter into tripartite deals involving local governments and the private sector. Other companies said to be open to the setup are US drug makers Moderna and Novavax.
In a statement made by Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque wherein he said that foreign travelers with valid visas and coming from countries that are not covered by the Philippines’ travel ban should comply with the following requirements:
On another note, the DOH stated that the government would have to assess using anal COVID-19 testing because it is too inconvenient for both the patients and health workers.
After a year of its first reported case, the country logged 2,109 COVID-19 infected individuals pushing the tally to 523,516.
This day, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto urged the Duterte government to “stock up on vaccination supplies, such as syringes,” while vaccines have not been delivered to the Philippines.
As the month draws to an end, the Philippines now has 525,618 confirmed COVID-19 cases after the DOH reported 2,103 new cases. Of the total cases, 27,318 are active.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. announced that approximately 5.6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from US drugmaker Pfizer and the United Kingdom’s AstraZeneca are expected to reach the Philippines within the first quarter of 2021. He noted that the Philippines’ vaccination drive will also be boosted with 5,500,800 to 9,290,400 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines.
Asian Development Bank allocated $25 M to the country to loan out for procurement of COVID-19 vaccines to 70 million Filipinos, as a target by the DOH.
The Philippine government will not be extending travel restrictions on foreigners from over 30 countries. Spokesperson Harry Roque declared that newly-tightened quarantine rules will be enough to prevent more entries of the United Kingdom variant of COVID-19. “We can’t continue with those bans because it will be bad for our economy,” he added.
The Philippines reached a total of 530,118 COVID-19 cases. The DOH also reported a number of 487,721 recoveries and 10,942 fatalities.
The Philippine pandemic task force has included persons with comorbidities in its list of priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination. Teachers and social workers, meanwhile, have been placed in the 2nd tier of prioritization.
As part of averting the spread of the virus, drivers and their passengers are required to wear face masks even if they are from the same household.
A light of hope is slowly showing. DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the Department of Science and Technology and its vaccine expert panel were in the “site initiation phase” of trials, where they locate which trials will take place in specific areas.
The DOH said that 22 patients have already recovered among the 25 reported cases of the more infectious United Kingdom (UK) variant in the country.
The saliva test, a more comfortable and affordable alternative to the nasal swabbing method for COVID-19 testing, is now available at the Subic Bay Freeport under a joint project of the PRC and the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).
The Philippine government held a dry run to accommodate the arrival of 117,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines expected by next week. Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. rated it an 80 out of 100 score, saying more improvements can be made. “Kapag nakatipid ka ng time at walang major defect at walang major hiccups, okay ‘yun. We want na ma-perfect natin… Kung ire-rate natin, nasa 80% tayo from 100,” he said in a media briefing.
The IATF-EID allows the reopening of select leisure facilities such as cinemas, theme parks, museums, libraries, and arcades in areas under General Community Quarantine
Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) chief Dante Gierran said that the board of the state health insurer will discuss packages that would help those who would experience COVID-19 vaccine side effects. In line with this, Gierran said PhilHealth still has “reserve funds” for indemnity insurance even though the scheduled rate hike for members was halted earlier this year.
The government eases mall restrictions as the DOH said that the government will release guidelines for proper ventilation in cinemas after it allowed traditional movie theaters to reopen in areas under general community quarantine.
Education is getting ready to pave its way back. This is because Senator Nancy Binay said that the Department of Education (DepEd) should make sure that schools being eyed for the dry run of face-to-face classes and their host local governments are ready to respond to any public health emergencies.
Marinduque Speaker Lord Allan Velasco supported the National Economic and Development Authority’s (NEDA) proposal to place the entire country under the more relaxed modified general community quarantine by March. He said that doing so would help the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic’s effects.
The director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday, February 17 that countries participating in the COVAX coronavirus vaccine distribution mechanism will soon receive confirmation of their first shipments but should expect them to be small due to limited global supplies.
As the fight continues, Senator Nancy Binay urged the Philippine National Police (PNP) to run after peddlers of fake COVID-19 vaccines who are “real threats to public health” instead of “perceived threats” like the volunteers at a Lumad school who were recently arrested in Cebu City.
The Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and health department still face a “blank wall” due to the persistent refusal of President Rodrigo Duterte’s security detail to provide information about the unregistered vaccines that they had administered to their personnel.
It is also this day that President Rodrigo Duterte has allowed the national government and local governments to pay more than 15% of advanced market commitments, the limitation set by government procurement rules.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said the House of Representatives plans to approve on 2nd and 3rd readings the bill creating an indemnification fund for the coronavirus vaccination program.
On much lighter news, Janssen Pharmaceutica has started Phase 3 clinical trials of its COVID-19 vaccines in the country according to Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Undersecretary Rowena Guevara. The target sites of the Janssen trials: San Pablo, Laguna; Cabuyao, Laguna; Makati City; La Paz, Iloilo; and Bacolod City.
This day, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said that face-to-face classes may only be conducted for a few hours should President Rodrigo Duterte approve the proposal. He also added that Duterte and his Cabinet members will discuss the possible resumption of face-to-face classes on February 22.
President Duterte refused NEDA’s proposal of placing the entire country on MGCQ before the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out.
On the city news, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Benhur Abalos said that the agency has given a 20% downpayment for 8,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine.
It is the same day when the SBMA said it was coordinating with the DOH on how the free port management could procure COVID-19 vaccines and distribute them immediately to their community.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr mentioned in his tweet that his preferred COVID-19 vaccine is that of Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute, Sputnik V, shown to have a 91.6% efficacy rate against symptomatic COVID-19 based on clinical trials.
Apart from celebrating the People Power Revolution Anniversary, the Department of Finance approved the inclusion of all COVID-19 vaccine importations in Mabuhay Lanes or express lanes for faster processing of tax and duty exemptions. The filing fees for COVID-19 vaccine import applications were also approved on this day by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III.
Hope is continuously paving its way back as the Philippines will receive 525,600 doses of vaccines developed by British drugmaker AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford on Monday, March 1. This was confirmed by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on this second to the last day of the month, February 27.
The country officially received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines, becoming the last ASEAN country to do so. These CoronaVac vaccines were from Sinovac Biotech donated by China consisting of 600,000 shots. It was also announced on this day that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III will not be receiving the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine.
As the month closes its chapter, the Philippines now has 576,352 confirmed COVID-19 cases after the DOH reported 2,113 new cases on Sunday, February 28. This is the 4th consecutive day that over 2,000 new cases were reported.
The health workers of the cities of Bacoor, Trece Martires, and Tagaytay received the first doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the Tagaytay International Convention Center. The second batch of COVID-19 vaccines brought by DOH Regional Director, Dr. Eduardo Janairo, is expected to be administered to more health workers on March 12.
As the nationwide lockdown is nearing its first anniversary, people are expecting to see significant improvements and drastic changes on how the government handles the pandemic and the procedures it entails. For the past few months, we have been trying to survive; and with the help of those around us, we were able to live. For others, the country’s leaders put “health is wealth” in a rather materialistic perspective that focuses more on wealth than health which compromised the rest of the country and put us in a worse situation than we should have been. Marking the anniversary of lockdown, is this finally the year that we will rise as one or is this the year that we fall one by one?
LAYOUT BY: Cristine Joie Q. Bacud
PHOTO SOURCE(S): McKinsey & Company, PAHO