The Christmas season or “Ber” months holds a special place in one’s heart, especially in the Philippines, where family and faith are the foundation of society. Festivities in the Philippines symbolize a Filipino’s belief and hopes — one of the many reasons why most people anticipate them. Given that millions in the country are fully vaccinated, who would have thought that another variant would appear and worsen the already spiking COVID-19 cases? The dreaded routine lockdowns and prohibition of the mass gathering are once again mandated, snatching us the opportunity to commemorate our deceased loved ones and traditionally celebrate the birth of Christ. Two years have passed, and we wonder, “Will this war against the unseen enemy constantly play in an infinite spiral?” To find out, let us recall the notable events that transpired from the last quarter of the year 2021 — October to December.
Setting the Tune
In Nikkei Asia’s latest global COVID-19 Recovery Index, which measures infection control, vaccination, and mobility — the Philippines came in last out of 121 countries.
The country was noted as the top borrower among all countries in the World Bank’s annual report for 2021, with $3.07 billion, roughly twice the $1.87 billion in 2020, as the government needed more money to battle COVID-19.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque relayed that inbound tourists who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will have their quarantine term shortened.
The OCTA Research group — a private polling and consultation firm dedicated to making projections related to the health crisis, reported that the Philippines’ seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases dropped by 29 percent, the lowest since August 6 to 12 — the first week of Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).
Meanwhile, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire announced the start of COVID-19 vaccination among the general adult population.
Dissonance within the Government
As of this date, the Department of Health (DOH) and its experts have chosen not to permit COVID-19 booster doses for healthcare workers, citing the importance of prioritizing the more significant unvaccinated percentage of the country’s population.
The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has given its approval to the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) for the vote simulation exercise scheduled for October 23 in San Juan City as a necessary measure ahead of the May 2022 elections.
Concurrently, Malacañang announced IATF’s approval of the recommendation to downgrade Metro Manila to a less restrictive Alert Level 3 starting October 16 until the end of the month.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año announced that starting October 29 to November 2, all cemeteries nationwide will be temporarily closed to avert the spread of COVID-19 during “Undas” (All Souls’ Day).
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has certified COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson as booster doses, indicating that mixing and matching for adults is safe.
With 283 deaths, DOH reported the highest number of fatalities in October —bringing its total to 41,520.
The country surpassed its goal of fully inoculating 25 million Filipinos over a week before the October 31 deadline. A total of 54,444,161 dosages have been provided as of this day.
Bloomberg’s COVID Resilience Ranking showed that the Philippines is still ranked last among 53 countries with a score of 40.5.
Roque announced that Metro Manila remains on Alert Level 3 from November 1 to November 14 to prevent the spike of COVID-19 cases.
The United States provided about two million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX Facility, which landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
COVID-19 daily counts were at 1,591, the lowest since February 24.
Vergeire reported the Philippines’ first registered case of the B.1.617.1 COVID-19 strain, formerly known as the deescalated ‘Kappa’ variant.
A Glimpse of Release
DOH declared the drop with the active COVID-19 cases to below 30,000 with 2,646 new cases. Data also shows a 4.3 percent positivity rate within the World Health Organization (WHO) benchmark below 5 percent.
DOH has issued a statement declaring that fully vaccinated healthcare workers can begin receiving booster doses on November 17.
Meanwhile, after more than a year of remote learning, thousands of students have been allowed to return to public schools for limited face-to-face classes, making the Philippines the world’s last country to do so.
In the Philippines, 849 new cases were recorded — the lowest tally of COVID-19 cases since January.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III commanded a stricter health protocol for all the visitors. All persons entering the Senate will be asked for an antigen test result, a medical certificate, and a vaccine card for approval to join the Senate.
DOH reported that the Philippines now has 2,824,499 confirmed COVID-19 cases — the eighth day that the daily rate is below 8%.
Chains of Combat
Vice President and Presidential Aspirant Leni Robredo stated the availability of COVID-19 pill molnupiravir — a prescribed treatment aid under the Office of the Vice President’s Bayanihan E-Konsulta Program via a memorandum of agreement.
The Civil Service Commission (CSC) stated that absences of government workers due to COVID-19 vaccination might be a reasonable excuse, as provided under its newly-released provisions.
Under the said provisions of the CSC, the absences of government workers are allowed, highlighting that COVID-19 vaccination is a valid excuse.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said that companies could use coronavirus vaccines as their booster shots while following government guidelines to assess which group from A1 (Healthcare workers), A2 (Elderly), or A3 (persons with comorbid conditions) can receive additional doses.
Rise from the Ashes
DOH applauds the Philippines’ achievement, noting that the country has surpassed its target of nearly 10 million people vaccinated.
The department also highlights the triumph of the Philippines — for it has surpassed its target number of vaccinated individuals, nearly 10 million.
DOH accentuates “LIGTAS CHRISTMAS PARA SA HEALTHY PILIPINAS HOLIDAY CAMPAIGN 2021”. The campaign promotes a safe celebration this Holiday season, followed by a reminder to adhere to minimum health protocols.
On this day, the DOH affirmed that the COVID-19 Omicron variant was not detected in the latest genome sequencing run.
As per Philippine FDA Director-General Eric Domingo, Pfizer applied for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of its Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 years old.
New Wave of Toxins
DOH reported the two imported cases of the Omicron variant — bringing the first cases in the country.
According to Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje, certain vaccines may have been contaminated due to the power disruptions caused by Typhoon Odette, which primarily devastated Calabarzon.
DOH reported the third case of the Omicron variant in the country.
Start of COVID-19 Loop
The Philippines’ ends 2021 with a downfall of case numbers and hospitalizations, driving the country at minimal risk for COVID-19.
As per Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, the Philippines will persist on Alert Level 2 from January 1 to 15 — indicating there will be no age-based restrictions. The government will allow increased capacity for financial operations such as dine-in restaurants, cinemas, and religious activities, among other things.
DOH reported 2,961 new COVID-19 cases, bringing a total in the Philippines to 2,843,979 — the most significant figure of daily cases since November 1.
As we bid our goodbyes to the year 2021 and welcome the year 2022, we embark on another journey full of surprises and uncertainties. Another face of an unseen enemy emerged in our country, the Omicron variant — this virus is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and it demands an unprecedented response due to its nature being highly transmissible. While these unseen enemies trigger fear and anxiety, we must stand our ground and outplay their cunning traps by strengthening unity and cooperation. Let us remind ourselves that this virus attacks the immune system; not our resilient minds. Maybe this year, 2022, we citizens can bravely stop the turntable from replaying the infinite spiral laid out by the COVID-19 pandemic.
LAYOUT BY: Casey R. Aguilos
PHOTO SOURCE(S): Reuters and Miguel De Guzman