‘Marcos not likely to extend COVID-19 state of calamity’

Rhodina Villanueva, Catherine Talavera - The Philippine Star
�Marcos not likely to extend COVID-19 state of calamity�
President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. graces the 72nd anniversary celebration of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) at its central office in Batasan Road, Quezon City on January 31, 2023.
STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — With COVID-19 cases in the country now manageable, the Department of Health (DOH) said President Marcos is no longer inclined to extend the state of calamity.

“The President is really very hesitant to extend the state of calamity (due to COVID-19). The DOH, in actuality, we requested for the extension not because of what we have as a situation but because of technical reasons, because of the different conditions such as vaccines and other things,” DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said in an interview with “The Chiefs” aired on Cignal TV’s One News on Wednesday night.

She said she met with the President recently, and that he was not in favor of the country still being classified under a state of calamity or emergency.

“This is because we are now seeing that our cases are manageable, our hospitals are well prepared and our occupancy rate for our COVID-19 cases is very low,” said Vergeire. “I think we are all moving forward. We just need to ensure that our safeguards are there so that if and when a new variant enters the country and cases start to increase, our (health care) system will be able to manage.”

Vergeire added that even with the expiration of the state of calamity, the country can still push through with the purchase of bivalent vaccines.

“We just need to go through the usual process of procurement. This is what we call competitive bidding and we have discussed this with the President already and he told us to go ahead,” the health OIC said.

“Donations of bivalent vaccines are expected to arrive soon, and that in about how many months, the vaccines we procured will also come in and vaccination will just be continuing. We don’t see any gap in the vaccination of the population against COVID-19,” she added.

As to the issue of the President appointing a new health secretary, Vergeire said that there was no offer from the Office of the President (OP) for her to become the DOH secretary.

“I just like to clarify that from the very start, the post was never offered to me. I was assigned as OIC and was told to just stay on and do the work and that’s what I have been doing,” she added. “There were people asking me, some feelers… that I can possibly take on the job but never coming from the OP.”

Emergency phase over

Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion said the country should not be in an emergency phase anymore, emphasizing the need to focus on making vaccines more available to the public.

“We should not be in an emergency phase anymore. I recently traveled to Europe and then to other Asian countries, and people are back [to] normal like nothing happened. Most flights still mandate the wearing of face masks, but that’s it,” he added.

As the country is no longer in a state of public health emergency, Concepcion explained the COVID vaccines would no longer have the emergency use authorization that makes it possible for the government to buy the vaccines.

He said the pharmaceutical companies should now apply for a Certificate of Product Registration (CPR) so that the vaccines can be readily available to those who would like to take them.

“If the pharma companies don’t apply for the CPRs, the Philippines may not be able to bring these vaccines here,” he said.

“The government should continue supporting the vulnerable, but it should also make the vaccines available to people who would like to take them on a voluntary basis,” he added.

Concepcion noted that the Food and Drug Administration should now prioritize CPRs so the vaccines can be sold locally. “Let’s get the public to pay for the bivalent and let’s allow this to be voluntary and not mandatory. Let people choose how they want to manage their health,” he said.

Moreover, he reiterated the need to learn from the country’s experience during the pandemic, specifically how it exposed weaknesses in the country’s health care system. “It’s time we improve our health care system, not just for COVID.”

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