Out of 2.248 million cases of COVID-19 infection, 35,307 deaths have been recorded in the Philippines as of Sept. 13, 2021 or a mortality rate of 1.57 percent. This is lower than the global record: 4.55 million deaths out of 219 million cases, or 2 percent. Latest figures also show that from 70 to 90 percent of those critically ill and confined in hospitals’ intensive care units (ICU) are unvaccinated patients.
These figures evince one important fact: The continuing surge in COVID-19 hospitalization that is overwhelming the capacity of healthcare facilities and frontline workers to respond is accounted for by unvaccinated persons.
Given these stark realities, does it make sense for governments to continue locking down businesses, communities, schools and churches? Doesn’t this approach impose such a steep penalty in terms of massive economic dislocation and severe social consequences?
Starting September 16, a new approach is being piloted in Metro Manila, the epicenter of the pandemic in the Philippines. Instead of the ‘alphabet soup’ of quarantine regimes – namely GCQ and MGCQ, ECQ and MECQ – five alert levels have been established. These range from Alert Level 1, “areas where case transmission is low and decreasing, total bed utilization rate, and intensive care unit utilization rate is low,” to Alert Level 5, “areas where case counts are alarming, with total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate at critical utilization.”
The new approach is based on the application of the principles of the 3Cs – closed, crowded, and close contact – strategy that will be applied in the National Capitol Region (NCR). The different Alert Levels correspond to the mediation of the contact situation in various scenarios of indoor or outdoor activities. The objective is to ensure appropriate physical or social distancing that will minimize opportunities for transmission and infection.
Clearly, ramped-up vaccination is still the most effective strategy. As of September 12, from a total of 38.7 million vaccine doses administered, 16.8 million or 15.7 percent are already fully vaccinated. NCR, Calabarzon and Central Luzon – that account for 60 percent of gross domestic product – are the leading regions in terms of vaccination levels.
The original target of attaining 70 percent “herd immunity” by December 2021 has been pushed back to the first quarter of 2022 due to slower than anticipated deliveries. Conforming with emerging global best practices, a wider net is now being cast to include younger Filipinos from 12 to 17 years old in the inoculation drive. This means that up to 90 percent would be immunized and a higher level of community protection would be attained. Supply and distribution challenges will have to be hurdled more vigorously.
The country’s economic managers and business leaders have taken the lead in urging the citizenry to level up and learn to live with the pandemic. Safe reopening of workplaces and schools are imperative priorities – and there is no time to lose as the health and well-being of more than 110 million Filipinos is at stake.