Philippines on lookout for 'post-holiday' surge in COVID-19 cases

Philippines on lookout for 'post-holiday' surge in COVID-19 cases
People are seen buying Christmas decorations in this October 3, 2020 photo.
The STAR / Walter Bollozos

MANILA, Philippines —  Government is bracing for a possible surge in coronavirus infections as the holiday season approaches, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said late Monday night. 

In President Rodrigo Duterte's weekly meeting with the coronavirus task force, the health chief said contingency measures will be up in the event that the said possibility takes place. 

"Bubuo rin ang DOH ng contingency plan sakaling magkaroon ng post holiday season surge in the number of cases," Duque said. "Habang ang bilang ng kaso ay patuloy na pababa, hindi ito dapat maging dahilan upang tayo ay maging mas maluwag o complacent."

(DOH will be coming up with a contingency plan in the event of a post-holiday season surge in the number of cases. While the infections are slowing down, this shouldn't mean that we will be lax or complacent.) 

The health department earlier today warned the public that flocking to crowded places even with face mask and shield on could still lead to infections.

This came after photos on social media showed Filipinos in the commercial center Divisoria in Manila with the holiday season fast approaching. 

Coronavirus infections in the country reached more than 420,000 on November 23, with the count remaining as the second highest in the Southeast Asian region. 

The agency in late October issued a circular on the conduct of Yuletide activities such as limiting the number of persons in gatherings as well as keeping activities short in duration. 

It has also advised against events that would require travel to areas with higher quarantine status.

Vaccine funding, distribution 

In the same address, Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez said government could have at least P73.2 billion for the purchase of possible COVID-19 vaccines, with the funding coming from three sources. 

He said P40 billion would come from multilateral agencies such as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank which agreed on "low cost, long-term" loans.

Domestic sources such as the Land Bank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines and government-owned and controlled corporations could shell in P20 billion.

The remaining P13.2 billion, the finance chief said,  would be from bilateral resources or other countries such as United Kingdom or United States, with negotiations still underway. 

Dominguez added that the said amount could allow for the inoculation of at least 60 million Filipinos. 

Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., the government's vaccine czar, reported too that talks are ongoing with drug companies such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Sinovac that could provide some 60 million doses by 2021.

"In case na makuha natin ang tatlong ito makabubuo tayo ng 60 million next year. Ibig sabihin mayroon na tayong magandang mga vaccine na nakita nating safe, cost-effective at maganda ang performance," he said. 

As for its distribution, Galvez said government will follow a geographical and eventually a sectoral strategy, or those Duterte vowed to put first in getting the vaccine.

This would mean that cases with high infections such as Metro Manila, Davao, Cebu, Bacolod and others would be prioritized, along with sectors such as most vulnerable to the COVID-19, health workers and the military and police. — Christian Deiparine

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