State of public health emergency lifted in Philippines

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
State of public health emergency lifted in Philippines
Parents enjoy their time with their family and children as they celebrate National Parents' Day at Luneta Park in Manila on July 22, 2023.
STAR / Ernie Penaredondo

MANILA, Philippines — President Marcos has lifted the pandemic-induced state of public health emergency in the Philippines but has retained the validity of the emergency use authorization (EUA) on vaccines for one year to exhaust the remaining supply of the jabs.

Under Proclamation No. 297 issued last July 21, all prior orders, memoranda and issuances effective only during the state of public health emergency shall be deemed withdrawn, revoked or canceled and shall no longer be in effect.

Former president Rodrigo Duterte declared the state of public health emergency in March 2020 through Proclamation No. 922. The issuance aimed to mobilize government resources to contain the spread of COVID-19, which was first reported in Wuhan, China.

Duterte’s proclamation stated that the state of public health emergency shall remain in force and effect until lifted or withdrawn by the president.

Marcos noted that the Philippines and other countries have reopened international borders and relaxed health and safety protocols as a result of the continued immunization and the decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases.

“While COVID-19 remains to be a serious concern for certain subpopulations and requires continued public health response, the country has maintained sufficient health care system capacity and low hospital bed utilization rates even after the liberalization of COVID-19 health protocols,” the President said in the proclamation.

World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared last May that COVID-19 no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern and advised the transition to long-term management of the pandemic, Marcos added.

Marcos enjoined all agencies to ensure that their policies, rules and regulations would consider the lifting of the state of public health emergency and to amend existing or promulgate new issuances, as may be appropriate.

His proclamation also stated that all EUA for COVID-19 jabs issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shall remain valid for one year from the date of lifting of the state of public health emergency “for the sole purposes of exhausting the remaining vaccines.”

In 2020, Duterte signed Executive Order No. 121 permitting the FDA director general to issue EUA for COVID-19 drugs and vaccines. The issuance allows the use of COVID-19 medicines and vaccines pending approval by health authorities, provided there is credible information suggesting that the drug or immunization can prevent, diagnose or treat the virus.

Last month, the government’s pandemic task force issued Resolution No. 8 requesting the lifting of the state of public health emergency throughout the Philippines.

Earlier this month, Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa said the COVID state of emergency in the country had been “de facto” lifted, noting that the wearing of face masks is no longer required. He said he was just waiting for the formal lifting of the emergency status.

Stay vigilant

In a statement yesterday, Herbosa said the public should remain vigilant and continuously safeguard their health.

“It is crucial to recognize that while the state of public health emergency is lifted, we must remain vigilant and proactive in our approach to health and safety,” he said.

“It is a positive step forward and that the conditions no longer necessitate the continuation of the public health emergency status,” he maintained.

“Continued awareness and adherence to recommended health protocols are paramount to safeguarding ourselves and our communities from any potential health risks,” the DOH chief said.

“As we move forward, let us remember that our collective strength lies in unity. We stand as one, united in our commitment to combat any future pandemic that may come our way. Together, we can overcome any adversity and build a healthier and safer nation for all,” he pointed out.

“Let us embrace this positive development with gratitude and determination, knowing that by working together, we shall prevail against any challenges that lie ahead,” he added.

The DOH said the Inter Agency Task Force on COVID-19 (IATF) is set to convene for a final meeting to reassess the situation and issue a comprehensive final report to the public.

“This report will encapsulate the tireless efforts and dedication of the IATF, the medical frontliners and the entire government in combating the challenges posed by the pandemic,” Herbosa’s statement read.

He commended the exemplary performance and unwavering commitment of the IATF and the medical frontliners “who have demonstrated resilience and heroism throughout this challenging period.”

“Their dedication to safeguarding public health has been instrumental in reaching this critical milestone,” he added.

Philippine College of Physicians president Dr. Rontgene Solante also expressed his approval of the lifting of the state of public health emergency.

“The current situation of COVID-19 globally does not anymore constitute a public health emergency for many reasons,” Solante said in a Viber message.

“First , there is continued decrease in cases. Second, health care utilization is low with less number of mortality. Third, most countries already achieved higher vaccination rate among targeted population and high population immunity,” he noted.

He also stressed that available antiviral treatment continues to be effective in the prevention of severe cases among high-risk vulnerable population, even against the new Omicron variants.

BHW partylist Rep. Angelica Natasha Co, who is also a vice chair of the House committee on health, said the DOH should ensure that the “vulnerable, unvaccinated and unboosted” will still get their anti-COVID-19 shots.

Co said these vaccines should remain free “to anyone whether they get vaccinated in public or private facilities.” — Rhodina Villanueva, Sheila Crisostomo


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