The good news is that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has allowed, starting Monday, the raising of the limits on church attendance in General Community Quarantine (GCQ) areas like Metro Manila from 30 to 50 percent, and the reopening on March 1 of movie houses up to 50 percent of capacity.
It is a sign of the improving COVID-19 situation in the country. Staring last Tuesday, the IATF also allowed more foreigners to enter the country, including foreigners with valid working visas, student visas, special investors visas, and special employment generation visas.
Around the world, the number of new cases decreased by 24 percent in the United States and Canada, 20 percent in Africa, 18 percent in Asia, 15 percent in Europe, 10 percent in Latin America, and 2 percent in the Middle East. The biggest falls were in Portugal, by 54 percent; Israel, by 39 percent; Spain, by 39 percent; South Africa, 37 percent; Colombia and Japan, by 35 percent.
Not so good was the news this week that the Department of Health had found 19 more cases of the United Kingdom variant of COVID-19, for a total of 44 now in the country. The vaccines now being administered in the US and Europe do not seem to be effective against the variant, so the vaccine companies are now rushing efforts for new ones good for all the expected variants.
The supply of vaccines now being administered in the US and Europe — Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca — have been largely cornered by the rich countries, so that the World Health Organization (WHO) has organized the COVAX Facility to secure some of these vaccines for distribution to the poorer nations of the world, including the Philippines.
It must be pointed out that all these vaccines have been granted only Emergency Use Authorization – the US Pfizer and Moderna vaccine by the US Food and Drug Administration — because of the ongoing world emergency. Russia and China have approved seven of their own vaccine candidates.
It took up to five years for various vaccines now in common use to complete all the needed testing to ensure they are effective and safe for groups such as children and old people, such as those for chicken pox, measles, mumps, and polio. COVID-19 emerged only in December, 2019, so the present vaccines have not gone through the usual five-year development and testing period.
It will take many months – and for many countries, years – before they can undertake any massive vaccination program. That we in the Philippines have been able to keep our cases down is the result of the early government restrictions and the people’s positive response to the restrictions.
We expect to start receiving some US vaccines this month but only a few hundreds of thousands of doses, when we need some 70 million to achieve significant immunity for our 110-million population. This will take many months, years.
Ultimately, it will be up to the people to face this problem, as we have faced it all these many months – with each one protecting himself/herself with face masks and face shields, proper distancing, and personal hygiene.
As the national economy cautiously proceeds to reopen, as we start going out of our homes to go to market, to malls, to schools, movie houses, and churches, we must maintain the care and caution we have developed over the months. For the COVID-19 virus is still around, ready to victimize the careless among us.