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Foresight and a pro-active stance. These made the difference in what the Philippines is right now: one of the safest places in the world.
These days we are seeing very low numbers in new COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. Last Tuesday, the number was down to 235; the positivity rate was below one percent, the lowest it has been since the Philippines started testing. Our ICU bed utilization rates are holding, vaccinations are continuing, and we are still keeping to the public health and safety protocols.
I have gotten a lot of comments about my role in the initiatives throughout the pandemic and I never miss a chance to say that had it not been for the collective effort of the private sector, the MMDA, the NCR mayors, and the cooperation of the IATF, all this would not have been possible. Several milestones along our two-year battle with COVID have proven this.
Foresight was important, and data showed us the way. We saw that there would be a need for vaccines, and entered into the A Dose of Hope tripartite agreement to bring 17 million doses of the vaccine to the Philippines. When the Delta variant came and cases started rising, the private sector bit the bullet and called for a two-week strict lockdown starting Aug. 8 to save the fourth quarter, when increased holiday spending would become our last hope to recover and bring much-needed revenues to our businesses.
When the vaccines started arriving, we saw the need to monitor how fast the country is vaccinating its citizens and acted by starting the VAX to the MAX dashboard to show vaccination rates across the country.
Now, with the possibility of more variants and possible breakthrough cases, we have taken the initial steps to secure booster shots for delivery in 2022, a move that was supported by the IATF when they gave us the greenlight to start negotiations. It is this foresight that will serve us well in securing vaccines for 2022, especially now that countries are racing to secure their own supply of boosters.
Luck was also on our side. With the adjusted timelines for the delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccines, we will have sufficient supply in the first half of 2022. And with negotiations now directed at acquiring vaccines for the second half of 2022, this may yet be just in time for AstraZeneca’s newly developed AZD2816, which addresses the variant strains of the SARS-CoV2 virus.
The IATF’s pro-active stance in promoting vaccinations has helped move the needle on vaccination rates across the country, including the proposal for the mandatory testing and jabbing of on-site workers.
It’s not just our domestic numbers that are making us optimistic. Even our returning kababayans are responsible enough to get vaccinated or at least get tested before heading home to their families here in the Philippines.
Data from Philippine Airlines show that positivity rates among arriving passengers from North America continue to stay relatively low, and this is regardless of the quarantine days imposed. It reached its highest back in April, and that was at 0.69 percent. December data shows a new low at 0.21 percent. Close to 95 percent of PAL’s passengers coming from North America are vaccinated and show significantly lower positivity rates.
It’s not just North America. In general, inbound passenger data from PAL reflected a 0.12 percent positivity rate in the first six days of December. That is lower than the November average.
There is more good news. Based on several sources tracking the arrival of vaccines in the country, by the end of the year the Philippines will have received close to 200 million vaccine doses – enough to vaccinate all Filipinos eligible for a vaccine.
For certain, things will change. At some point, new variants will penetrate the country and mobility will raise the number of cases. The job is far from done. We must protect every Filipino from all other variants to come. Every region should fully vaccinate at least 90 percent of its population, and those who can should already take their booster shots. They should take it on the fourth month rather than the sixth month, and head off the waning immunity.
The efforts of the private sector, the MMDA, the NCR mayors, and the support of the IATF has led us to this place. Even at Alert Level 2, we are already seeing businesses bounce back between 70 to 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels. I know we are not about to act irresponsibly and risk backsliding into stricter alert levels. We have proven that we are capable of making sacrifices for the sake of the common good when we pushed for a lockdown back in August.
The new goal now is to sustain this beyond Christmas and make 2022 is a year of economic recovery and zero lockdowns.