Successful vaccine program seen as key to easing restrictions
CABINET Secretary Karlo Nograles yesterday said a shift to the least strict modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) may be possible by the second quarter of 2021 or once the vaccination of the rest of the population starts.
Nograles said President Duterte has expressed satisfaction with the phase of the vaccination rollout, which kicked off this week following the arrival of 600,000 doses of Coronavac last Sunday, and is now more confident about how the government is managing the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The government was set to receive last night 487,200 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine under the World Health Organization-led Covax facility.
“The confidence of the President is improving… I foresee this to be something that will be in the works in the second quarter. This is probably the right time for us to shift to MGCQ,” Nograles said when asked if the previous proposal to ease restrictions were discussed during the meeting.
Nograles said the President has already said that he would consider further opening up the economy and shifting the entire country to MGCQ once the government has in its stock about two million doses of vaccines.
Metro Manila, Apayao, Baguio City, Kalinga, Mountain Province, Batangas, Tacloban City, Iligan City, Davao City, and Lanao del Sur are under the stricter general community quarantine (GCQ) until March 31, while the rest of the country is under MGCQ.
Duterte, at the inauguration of several school buildings in Valenzuela City on Thursday afternoon, said his economic managers as well as the education department have been pestering him on the easing of restrictions, the opening of the economy and the resumption of face-to-face classes.
“If I see most of the citizens can avail of the vaccine in any of the health centers, hospitals… that is the standard. Then I will reopen everything, our economy,” he said.
The President, however, said reopening the economy does not mean resuming physical classes. Minors or those aged below 18 are not eligible for a vaccine.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said another one million doses, part of the 25 million vaccines being bought by the Philippines from Sinovac, is expected to be delivered between March 21 to 30 once the supply agreement is signed this week.
The government hopes to complete the tripartite agreement with Gamaleya for the delivery of 10 to 15 million doses of vaccine in April and sign a supply agreement with the Serum Institute of India (SII) for the 30 million doses of Novavax for delivery in May. Galvez and members of the vaccine panel of experts will fly to India next week.
“So, abangan natin kung ano ang mangyari sa March and then by second quarter presumably, we will have more than two million vials already coming in. So, baka iyon iyong parang indicative timeline na sinasabi ni Pangulo at kaya nasabi nga niya iyong 2 million doses or vials na darating dito sa bansa (Let us see what will happen in March and then by the second quarter, presumably, we will have already have more than two million vials coming in. So, that may be the indicative timeline why the President said two million doses or vials will arrive in the country,” Nograles said.
Meanwhile, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire yesterday said Metro Manila will not be placed under a stricter level of community quarantine despite the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in several metro cities.
Vergeire said there was no discussion of upgrading the current GCQ during their meeting with the Metro Manila Council on Wednesday.
Vergeire said what was discussed during the meeting was how Metro mayors can enhance their localized response to the health crisis.
“It was agreed in the meeting that we need to have stricter implementation of our Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat, and Reintegrate (PDITR) strategy. Each locality should have their localized response enhanced,” she said.
Vergeire said the local executives were reminded about the strict enforcement of minimum public health standards (MPHS) and were advised to adopt intensive contact tracing, quarantine, and isolation efforts.
“Once they find the close contacts, they should be placed under quarantine within 24 hours so that we can cut the transmission immediately,” said Vergeire.
On Wednesday, the NCR was found to be the region with the highest surge in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks.
Based on the March 4 Case Bulletin, the DOH reported 2,452 new cases on Thursday, bringing to 584,667 the total number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
Among the confirmed cases, 15 patients succumbed to the disease, which brought the tally on fatalities to 12,404. The case fatality rate in the country now stands at 2.12 percent.
Likewise, the DOH reported that there is now a total of 535,037 COVID-19 recoveries, including the 266 new COVID-19 survivors reported yesterday.
This means that 91.5 percent of COVID-19 patients have been able to recover.
And less the deaths and recoveries, the DOH said there remain 37,226 active COVID-19 cases (or 6.4 percent of total cases) in the country.
Of the active cases, 90.1 percent are mild cases, 4.9 percent are asymptomatic cases, 2.1 percent are critical cases, 2.1 percent are severe cases, and 0.81 percent are moderate cases.
Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday reported 29 more overseas Filipinos contracted the deadly COVID-19 virus, bringing the number of cases since the start of the pandemic to 15,052. There were also 12 new deaths, bringing the total death toll to 1,033.
Of the 1,033 overseas Filipinos who succumbed to the virus, 664 are in the Middle East and African regions, 220 in the Americas, 128 in Europe and 21 in the Asia Pacific region.
The Middle East and Africa regions registered the highest number of cases with 8,131; followed by Europe with 3,104; Asia Pacific region with 2,931; and 886 in the Americas.
There were also 58 new recoveries, bringing the number of survivors to 9,513. – With Gerard Naval and Ashzel Hachero