Let it not be another Ides of March

We’re on the second day of the Alert Level-1 category as low-risk in terms of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection cases. This was from Alert Level-2 after the entire Metro Manila – comprising the national capital region (NCR) – and 38 other areas in the country have been downgraded effective starting March 1 to 15.

The first-ever lockdown took effect starting March 15, 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic breached our shores and spread out from the NCR to other parts of the Philippines. President Rodrigo Duterte initially imposed Luzon-wide lockdown to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. From then on, President Duterte placed the entire country under a state of public health emergency and twice extended it already.

Under Proclamation 929 issued on March 16, 2020, the Chief Executive first declared the State of Calamity due to COVID-19 pandemic for a period of six months, “unless earlier lifted or extended as circumstances may warrant.” But before it could even lapsed, the President issued Proclamation 2020 on Sept.13 on the same year extending the State of Calamity for one year ending Sept.12, 2021.

However, the President cited, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) recommended “the further extension of the State of Calamity throughout the Philippines” two days before the second extension lapsed. Thus, the President issued Proclamation 1218 extending the State of calamity until Sept.12, 2022.

Naturally, it added the same provision – unless otherwise earlier lifted or extended – since the new administration would take over from outgoing President Duterte by noon of June 30 this year.

As far as the science and data considered by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID), the matrices they use to measure the COVID-19 cases support the de-escalation in relation with the capacity of the country’s health system, among other factors.

Since the deadly COVID-19 pandemic broke out in our country, it has been the IATF that calls the shots from imposing lockdowns to imposing other “musts” to control the spread of the pandemic and its foreign variants that have broke out one after the other in our country. However, the series of hard lockdowns all over the country, including the closures of our borders from COVID-19 impacted countries, largely dragged down the Philippine economy to negative growths for almost three quarters in 2020.

Worse, the foreign variants or mutations of COVID-19 infection added to our woes. The deadly strains of foreign variants starting from Alpha to Delta in the first six months last year spiked and pushed to five-digit numbers our COVID-19 cases here. With not enough anti-COVID vaccines yet coming to the Philippines, it took a long while before our country’s economy to crawl out of depression.

Things began to improve towards the third quarter last year. Thanks to the World Health Organization (WHO) COVAX Facility and donations from China, the United States, and other countries. Various brands of anti-COVID vaccines poured into our country and augmented the DOH vaccine procurement.

The IATF shifted to “granular lockdowns” and replaced the soup alphabet of quarantine declarations to Alert Level system. Patterned after the weather alert, the task was given to our Department of Health (DOH) to issue the Alert Levels from 1 to 5, with 5 as the highest in terms of severity of COVID-19 cases in particular areas.

The numbers were turning good towards the last quarter of 2021. In fact, there were already signs of the so-called “flattening the curve” of COVID-19 cases in our country. When the numbers went down to as low as 168 on Dec.21 last year, the DOH even announced about its intention to phase out its daily COVID-19 cases reporting to shift its monitoring focus to vaccination and other equally important public health programs of the government.

Then another more transmissible foreign variant broke out and sparked a new wave of the pandemic.

The Omicron variant doused the IATF’s preparations for the transition to the post-pandemic “new normal” of living with the virus. On Dec.31, the DOH recorded the daily total went up to 2,961 new COVID-19 Infections and prompted the IATF to upgrade again to Alert Level-3 the entire NCR and neighboring areas.

Fortunately, the Omicron wave did not last long generally. This could be largely because of the ramped up anti-COVID vaccination program of the IATF and strongly implemented by the local government units (LGUs) with the support of private sector.

The daily tally of the COVID-19 cases began to decline again. After the first two months this year, the country went back to three-digit cases of daily new COVID-19 infection cases. The DOH documented 951 new COVID-19 cases on Feb. 28. It brought the total tally to 3,661,997 COVID-19 infections all over the country.

Data showed the positivity rate in the Philippines averaged to 5% that meets the WHO standard to indicate the country is at par in managing its COVID-19 cases. Sadly, the COVID-related death toll in our country stood at 56,451 as of yesterday.

Thus, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III announced the DOH will only be releasing weekly COVID-19 cases update instead of the current daily bulletin. Starting on March 7, Duque also disclosed the DOH weekly bulletin will provide basic information about the number of severe and critical COVID cases and rates of hospital use on intensive care units.

The rationale behind this, Duque pointed out, is to adjust the mindset of the public in the appreciation of the fact that COVID-19 is virus we must learn to live now that we know how to fight it off. He advised the public to continue with wearing of facemasks, avoiding the “3 Cs,” or closed spaces, crowded places and contact-setting; and the rest of other minimum health protocols to protect ourselves from getting COVID-19 infection.

Duque believes our country is on the cusp of getting out of the pandemic. Let not there be another COVID-19 variant turn into Ides of March.

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Credit belongs to : www.philstar.com

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