National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. denied criticisms that the Philippines has been virtually sent back to square one due to the government’s failure to effectively contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) due to the sudden increase of cases in the past days.
“We have been here before but we are not back to square one. We are in [a] much better shape now and more equipped in dealing and handling this virus,” said Galvez who is also the country’s vaccine czar, in a statement.
Former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, however, said that the Philippines is not only back to square one in its dealing with COVID-19 but actually 10 steps back from the square one in addressing the pandemic.
Galvez said that “decisive and drastic measures” were imposed to address the increase of new COVID-19 cases while balancing public health and economy including the scaling down of the number of people reporting to the offices and business establishments, capping the entry of inbound passengers, and imposing granular lockdowns by local government units (LGU) across the country.
Meanwhile, a General Community Quarantine (GCQ) bubble was also ordered in NCR, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal or “NCR+” from March 22 to April 4. This means that only Authorized Persons Outside of Residence (APORs) are allowed to enter and exit these areas during the two-week GCQ bubble.
Many Filipinos aired their disappointment on social media after the government imposed travel restrictions in NCR+, saying that the country appears to go back to where it was during the early days of the pandemic last year with the limited movement of the people.
But Galvez explained that these adaptive measures should be followed again to counter the entry of new variants of coronavirus which, he said, could have contributed to the exponential rise of new cases that is happening not only in the country but around the world.
“Across the globe, the pandemic continues to be a great challenge. As mentioned by World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the surge in COVID-19 infections is ‘not unique’ to the Philippines as there has been a ‘global increase’ in cases,” Galvez said.
The NTF chief implementer appealed to the public to “work together in slowing down the infection rate” through the diligent observation of the minimum public health standards such as maintaining social distance, accurate wearing of face masks and shields, and frequent washing of hands.
As for the vaccination program, Galvez said that the government remains committed to inoculate 70 million adult Filipinos by year-end.
However, the shortage in the global supply of vaccines is posing a big challenge for the government to speed up the vaccination program.
“Vaccine manufacturers are having difficulty in scaling up their vaccine productions since some countries such as the US are banning the export of raw materials, which is deeply affecting the global supply in the first semester of this year,” Galvez explained.
“Despite the limited global supply due to the increasing demand from all parts of the world and challenges faced by manufacturers on shortage of raw materials, our goal is set. We are not stopping until the country will have its fair share and steady supply of vaccines,” he vowed.
The government is criticized for the snail-paced crawl in the vaccination program which could jeopardize its plan of vaccinating 70 percent of the total population so the country can achieve herd immunity by year-end.
But Galvez expressed optimism that from “crawling,” the government will start “walking” and “running” once the bulk of supplies arrive in the second quarter of 2021.
“From ‘crawling,’ we will start to ‘walk’ upon the arrival of the limited supply of roughly 2.3 million vaccines within March and early April, and we will ‘run’ as the bulk of the supplies have been delivered and the global demand of the vaccines will be eased by May or June and onwards,” he said.