2020 has been an exhausting year for everyone to say the least, but every single moment of it was worth learning from. Not only did it teach us how to appreciate the fragility of life, it also placed a spotlight on the government’s blunders and successes in its attempt to solve a pandemic. The last quarter of 2020 showed us how the government provided Filipinos with the promise of a vaccine and the hope that everything will get better eventually. With this, let us recall the events that took place from September to December whilst determining whether the government’s promises were kept:
The Threat Increases
Health workers dismayed over the decision of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to reduce the physical distancing on public transport from the standard 1 meter to 0.75 meter to increase the vehicles’ passenger load.
The reduced physical distancing on public transport was suspended after President Rodrigo Duterte raised his concern over the plan of the DOTr to reduce the distance to 0.75 meter.
A total of 19,630 recoveries from COVID-19 in the Philippines have been recorded this day. Of the total recoveries, 8,892 were part of the Department of Health’s weekly Oplan Recovery scheme.
Batanes recorded its first COVID-19 case after remaining COVID-19 free for almost eight months despite the increasing number of cases in the Philippines.
The Philippines entered the list of 20 countries with the most number of coronavirus cases worldwide. The country’s total was 314,079, just one slot below Italy with 314,861 cases.
The Philippines outranks South Korea in having the highest confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths as announced by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The new daily figure of 1,509 cases was only based on 133 laboratories out of 149 licensed testing hubs. It is the lowest since September 7 when the country logged 1,383 cases. At the time, 88 out of 115 laboratories submitted their reports.
Researchers studying the coronavirus outbreak in the country urged the government to put coronavirus “high-risk” areas on “localized lockdowns with stricter border controls” to curb the further spread of the virus.
Coronavirus has also affected the sports events in the country. The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) reported that a referee tested positive for coronavirus in the bubble and was placed in isolation at the New Clark City Athlete’s Village. According to the official statement of the PBA, the referee – who is asymptomatic – was labeled a suspect after his swab test taken on October 19 came out positive.
The Land Transportation Office (LTO) has extended, until December 31, the validity of student permits, driver’s licenses, and conductor’s licenses that expired during the quarantine period and which belong to persons aged 17 to 21 years old and 60 to 65 years old. These age groups were the ones ordered to always stay at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Philippines now has 363,888 confirmed COVID-19 cases after the Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,664 new cases.
According to Manila City Government and Quiapo Church, the grand procession of the life-sized image of the Black Nazarene in January 2021 had been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The issue of the debt of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) was also being tackled wherein Malacañang said the PhilHealth must “provide partial payment” to the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) while their memorandum of agreement is being reviewed. Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said this in a statement.
The Philippines now has 365,799 confirmed COVID-19 cases after the DOH reported 1,923 on Friday, October 23.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto urged Malacañang to appoint a “vaccine czar” to anticipate the challenges of securing COVID-19 vaccines for the Philippines. He said the Philippines needs a Filipino with “global stature, excellent connections and diplomatic skills” to successfully place the orders and outsmart the competition.
The Philippines now has 367,819 confirmed COVID-19 cases after the DOH reported 2,057 new infections. Of the total cases, 47,773 are active.
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) announced that the COVID-19 mega quarantine facility for Calabarzon is set to open in Calamba City, Laguna, in November. The Calamba facility has 600 beds – 50 for health workers and 550 for mild and asymptomatic coronavirus patients, said the DPWH in a press release.
The Philippines is getting its help from Israel as the Embassy of Israel in the Philippines donates a handwashing facility to Makati High School to support the Brigada Eskwela 2020 of the Department of Education (DepEd) and to help the efforts in fighting the pandemic.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that phase 3 clinical trials for vaccines to be facilitated by the WHO will begin in December, not in late October as originally planned.
As the search continues for the vaccine that could dissipate this virus, the WHO is stopping the use of Interferon in solidarity trials that seek to find an effective COVID-19 drug after widespread trial data showed it did not reduce mortality among infected patients.
President Duterte announced that the General Community Quarantine (GCQ) is extended in some areas like Metro Manila, Batangas, Ilo-ilo City, Bacolod City, Iligan City, Tacloban City, and Lanao Del Sur. The rest of the country remains under Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ).
A newly-formed Taiwanese company in the Subic Bay Freeport will be manufacturing face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPEs) to help address a continuing demand for health safety gears, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Chairman and Administrator Wilma Eisma said the SBMA management has recently green-lighted the operation of Mask Secure King Incorporated to help increase the country’s production capacity for PPEs and other medical consumables.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released P77.98 billion to various government agencies for the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. This latest fund, under the Bayanihan 2 Act, will cover special risk allowances and hazard pay for frontliners. It also includes funds for the Department of Labor and Employment for the implementation of cash for work programs.
The Philippines now has 383,113 confirmed COVID-19 cases after the DOH reported 2,396 cases.
South Korea, through the Export-Import Bank of Korea/Korea Eximbank, and the Philippines, through the Department of Finance, entered into an agreement for the Economic Development Cooperation Fund COVID-19 Emergency Response Program Loan worth $100 million.
The Sangguniang Panlungsod of General Trias in Cavite has adopted a DOTr memorandum order requiring drivers and passengers to wear face shields in all modes of public transportation.
Vice Mayor and SP Presiding Officer Morit Sison said the city council adopted the policy to provide residents an additional layer of protection against COVID-19, on top of social distancing, sanitizing, and the wearing of face masks.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto welcomed the appointment of Peace Process Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr as the country’s COVID-19 vaccine czar, and urged him to enlist the help of experts beyond the military.
In relation to this, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the imposition of a price cap for COVID-19 testing and test kits to prevent exorbitant costs of a service critical to curbing the coronavirus pandemic.
The DOH reports only 987 new COVID-19 cases in the country – the lowest since July 14 – but explains that “the relative low report in the new cases is part of the effects of Typhoon Rolly.”
A 77-year-old congresswoman residing in Quezon City tested positive for COVID-19 on November 4, but her identity has not been disclosed by House of Representatives’ Medical Service Department Director Dr Dick Dizon.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said that it received an additional 200 metric tons of locally-produced and well-milled rice from the Republic of Korea to support the country’s pandemic relief efforts.
While the controversial issue between PhilHealth and PRC is ongoing, the embattled Philhealth stated that it paid P100 million more to the PRC for its debt on the organization’s coronavirus testing services.
Batanes is COVID-19-free again, Governor Marilou Cayco said on Saturday, November 7. The northernmost province was able to keep itself free from the coronavirus for almost 8 months after the Philippines confirmed its first case. On September 28, a locally stranded individual who returned to the province became its first case.
In anticipation of the “joyful” celebration of Filipinos especially during Christmas and New Year, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire reminded the public to avoid participating in Videoke singing with large groups. Vergeire said there was new evidence that singing transmits the “highest” load of COVID-19 transmission compared to talking and breathing.
The total number of coronavirus cases in the Philippines is now at 401,416, after the DOH reported 1,672 additional cases.
Bacolod City has recorded its youngest coronavirus fatality, a one-year-old baby boy from Barangay 30, City Administrator Em Ang confirmed.
President Rodrigo Duterte thanked the United States for its assistance to the Philippines’ COVID-19 response efforts, including the provision of state-of-the-art ventilators and other medical supplies to the government. Duterte made the statement during the US-ASEAN Summit, in a speech read by Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr, according to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
The House committee on health gave its nod to a bill that seeks to create a medical reserve corps that the government can tap during public health emergencies. Another bill was filed by Marikina City 2nd District Representative Stella Quimbo which sets a P400-billion spending package to augment the government’s efforts to save the economy from the coronavirus pandemic. Such a bill is named House Bill No. 8031 or the Bayanihan to Arise as One Act or Bayanihan 3 – as a “rescue boat” for Filipinos who now have to deal with the aftermath of consecutive typhoons while in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis.
The Department of Science and Technology has now delivered a total of 368 RxBox units to UP-PGH, and DOST regional offices in Metro Manila, Central Visayas, CALABARZON, Central Luzon, Davao region, and Eastern Visayas for distribution to selected hospitals and healthcare facilities.
THE VACCINES EMERGE
The DOH said an executive order is needed to grant emergency use authorization (EUA) to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to hasten the approval of coronavirus vaccines that will enter the country. On the same day, President Rodrigo Duterte has backtracked on his previous rejection of advanced payments required by Western vaccine makers.
With President Rodrigo Duterte set to issue an EUA, coronavirus vaccines could arrive in the country before the second quarter of 2021. The FDA Director General Eric Domingo said during a virtual press briefing that the EUA would hasten the government vaccine procurement plan.
The country’s death toll from COVID-19 exceeded 8,000 as the DOH reported 27 more deaths leading to its total of 8,025.
US biotech giant Pfizer and German partner BioNTech sought approval to roll out their coronavirus vaccine early, a first step towards relief as surging infections prompt a return to shutdowns that traumatized nations and the global economy earlier this year.
Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa tested positive for COVID-19. He announced this in a Facebook post.
President Rodrigo Duterte approved the Philippine government’s prepayment for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, paving the way for the country’s access to the medicine expected to provide protection against the virus.
Outgoing South Korean Ambassador Han Dong-man handed over the Korean government’s additional pandemic assistance to Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. Part of the donation includes P24 million ($500,000) worth of COVID-19 diagnostic kits, PCR and DNA extraction equipment, and personal protective equipment.
The DOST said that clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines in PH may begin in December 2020.
On the same day, the IATF ordered the adoption and use of the StaySafe contact tracing app at both national and local level. The government launched StaySafe in April to improve contact tracing efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The DOH congratulated the 3,538 passers of the November 2020 Physician Licensure Examination (PLE), saying the agency has standardized government salaries to be competitive for doctors who will work in the public sector.
Senator Manny Pacquiao said he welcomes any investigation into claims that his camp violated quarantine protocols when they recently distributed relief goods in Batangas. Pacquiao’s camp said photos and videos showing alleged quarantine violations did not “reflect the real situation on the ground.”
The Philippines now has 431,630 confirmed COVID-19 cases after the DOH reported 1,773 additional cases.
A total of 98 people tested positive for the coronavirus after a recent mass testing conducted in the House of Representatives, House Secretary-General Mark Llandro Mendoza said on Tuesday, December 1. Mendoza said the number accounts for 5% of around 2,000 House members and congressional staff who underwent their RT-PCR tests since November 10.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said, “It’s really to invite families to visit the malls again”. This is in accordance with the national government’s decision to begin allowing minors to go outside for leisure, as long as they are with their parents.
PRC chairman Senator Richard Gordon says if PhilHealth fails to pay its debt, PRC will be forced to halt its COVID-19 testing services again. Meanwhile, vaccine czar and COVID-19 National Task Force Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez Jr said he signed a confidentiality data agreement with Pfizer last November 30, pushing forward negotiations on the possible purchase of its vaccines for Filipinos.
As approved by President Duterte, an EUA can shorten the Philippine FDA’s processing time for a COVID-19 vaccine to 21 days.
The national government has allowed conferences, seminars, and similar events to be held in GCQ areas as long as a 30% venue capacity limit is observed.
Having been tested for the virus a few days before, Senator Ronald dela Rosa was discharged from the hospital, where he was confined for COVID-19 treatment.
The country’s debt breaches ₱10T as of October, reflecting additional loans secured months into the COVID-19 pandemic.
The national government has determined the first 25 million Filipinos to be given a COVID-19 vaccine. Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque presented a tally of these priority vaccine recipients during a press conference.
Senator Risa Hontiveros called on the DOH and local governments to improve public confidence in vaccination, following reports that 31% of Filipinos did not favor getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has likened the P72.5-billion fund for COVID-19 vaccines under the proposed 2021 budget to an unfunded check as it remains uncertain how the government can raise at least P70 billion for vaccine procurement.
As the country still finds the right cure against the virus, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the FDA is studying Johnson & Johnson’s (Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.) application for Phase 3 trials, placing it among companies in advanced reviews for trials in the Philippines.
Senator Leila de Lima filed a bill to provide free COVID-19 vaccines for all Filipinos. De Lima submitted the proposed law on Wednesday, December 9. Senate Bill No. 1942 is the proposed “Libreng Bakuna Kontra COVID-19 para sa Lahat ng Pilipino Act.”
Searching for the right cure is still in the works for the country. The private sector is donating more doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine after the initial 2.6 million doses for donation, said Presidential Adviser on Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion. This comes after AstraZeneca allowed the private sector to have a second batch of vaccine donations.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the WHO decided it would not be using cancer treatment drug Acalabrutinib in its solidarity trials to find an effective COVID-19 treatment.
The House of Representatives approved the bill extending the validity of the funds under the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act (Bayanihan 2) until June 30, 2021.
Malacañang released the approved timeline of activities for pilot implementation of face-to-face classes in select schools. From December 14 to 18, regional field units of DepEd will nominate schools for the pilot implementation. On December 28, Education Secretary Leonor Briones will choose the final pilot schools. The dry run will be from January 11 to 23, 2021.
The Philippine coronavirus task force decided to allow officials of foreign governments and foreigners employed in the Philippines to return if they leave the Philippines starting December 17. This was announced by Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque and formalized in the IATF on Emerging Infectious Diseases Resolution No. 89.
The DOH asserted that no details for purchase were tackled by Pfizer officials during early talks with the Philippine government on its COVID-19 vaccine.
Bataan officials have inaugurated the 1Bataan Mega Q – the province’s central processing and quarantine facility that will serve as a multipurpose venue for the coronavirus disease.
San Miguel Corporation said it has waived a total of P138 million worth of toll at its expressways for medical frontliners as of Sunday, December 20. SMC president and chief operating officer Ramon Ang said the benefit, which started last March, is extended indefinitely.
The Philippines now has 467,601 confirmed COVID-19 cases after the DOH reported 1,885 additional cases. Of the total cases, 27,748 are active.
A NEW STRAIN
DOH and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) clarified that contrary to allegations, no expired testing kits were released to any laboratory. Since there is a new strain of COVID-19 gradually spreading, DOH also said it would recommend expanding travel restrictions to all countries with cases of the new COVID-19 variant.
With the regulatory aspect of its application done, the FDA said Janssen’s trials could begin in the Philippines in “next few weeks” after DOST assigns areas to be included and recruits volunteers.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the COVID-19 vaccines used by members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) are indeed smuggled as it was unauthorized, but the intention behind the act is “justified” as it is meant to protect President Rodrigo Duterte. Meanwhile, PSG chief Brigadier General Jesus Durante said that he takes “full responsibility” for the unregistered vaccine administered on several close-in security of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The city government of Manila is on the lookout for smuggled and illegal vaccines in the capital, Mayor Isko Moreno said in a “Laging Handa” briefing. The mayor said that when the time comes to set aside funds for approved vaccines in the city, he would be willing to cancel additional projects to buy more vaccines if needed.
The Philippines ended 2020 with 474,064 confirmed COVID-19 cases after DOH reported 1,541 additional cases. It also reported 14 new deaths due to the coronavirus disease, bringing the death toll to 9,244. Meanwhile, recoveries are up by 296, raising the total to 439,796.
DBM announced that it has allotted ₱838 billion for various COVID-19 response measures in 2021, ranging from medical equipment, test kits, and vaccines. The amounts were drawn from reallotted funds and savings generated under the 2019 and 2020 budgets, freed up by virtue of the two Bayanihan stimulus packages passed by Congress.
As we leave 2020 behind, let us not dwell on events that could have been spent with our family and friends. Instead, let us look forward to a new year and learn from what we have experienced. Despite the longest lockdown in the country, the end of this pandemic remains to be seen. We must, however, constantly hope that the situation will be better next year. For now, let us find more ways to survive and even thrive during this pandemic.
LAYOUT BY: Cristine Joie Q. Bacud
PHOTO SOURCE(S): McKinsey & Company, PAHO