Next chapter of COVID issues

Next chapter of COVID issues

At this stage, our government authorities are ostensibly not taking any chances to risk the gains of our country to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The risks are much higher lately with the detection of more Delta variants and other foreign mutations among the COVID-19 cases that have been so far monitored from across the country. As of Tuesday, the Philippines have breached the two million-mark of confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection.

Thus, the government has recalibrated its procurement schedule of anti-COVID vaccines that would be delivered for the remaining four months this year. This early, the government has begun securing pre-order from vaccine makers the booster shots for next year. Designated “vaccine czar” Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. announced this in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay virtual news forum last Wednesday.

Ramping up the vaccines procurement, Galvez disclosed, about 54 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be delivered to our country within these next two months. With these vaccines, Galvez believes the vaccination for the general and pediatric population in our country will commence much ahead than previously scheduled, either later this month or early October.

Aside from being the designated “vaccine czar,” Galvez is also chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) on government responses to control the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the Philippines. The NTF is under the umbrella of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID).

Galvez, a retired Armed Forces Chief of Staff, also heads the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) implementing the government’s Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB). Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic that started in March 2020, Galvez admitted, the normalization phase of the FAB got stalled.

Thus, he cited, the OPAPP strongly supported the approval by the 18th Congress of the bill to postpone the elections at the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to May 2025. The regional polls are originally slated simultaneous with the presidential, national and local elections on May 9, 2022.

Speaking of timelines, Galvez revealed key government officials are discussing with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on the possible “multi-day” voting in next year’s elections. According to Galvez, the IATF have begun discussing the scenario of “multi-day” voting in a bid to prevent COVID-19 “super spreader” events during the election period here next year.

“We are looking at the possibility that the election will be a multi-day election, not a single-day election, so we can prevent the possible conglomeration of thousands of people in the precincts,” Galvez revealed. He echoed the fears of the IATF if the more than 20 million Filipino electorates would gather in great numbers together at the same time, at same place: “There are great chances of contamination.”

Galvez acknowledged, though, that this will require an amendment to the “Omnibus Election Code” of the Philippines to allow such special holding of election amid the prevailing public health emergency due to the pandemic. As of late, Galvez added the IATF, the NTF, the Comelec and members of the 18th Congress have yet to work out such legislation, including a possible voting-in-phases scheme by geographic region, or island group.

As basis of this exigency, Galvez pointed to the impact of national elections held in India and the United States (US) where apparently it “further aggravated the situation” there of the pandemic. This year, India held elections in March and April while the US had several special State congressional elections one after the other.

In the case of the Philippines, Galvez noted, it is not too late to come up with schemes and options to minimize “super spreader transmissions” to our voters during registration period and during the time of election. “I think we still have plenty of time. We will collectively plan this with Comelec and Congress,” he stressed.

At least in both India and the US, the biggest vaccine-makers are located in these countries where we procure our anti-COVID vaccine brands Pfizer, Moderna, Janssen, and soon Novavax, too. While we can be protected from severe or critical ailments, all these anti-COVID vaccines are still in the stage of less than 100% guarantee of immunity.

As of latest tally of the World Health Organization, more than two million lives globally have so far been lost due to COVID-related deaths. The US, India, Brazil, Russia and UK remain in the top five countries with the highest number of confirmed COVID cases.

As raised in this corner last Monday, we now have the identities of previously unnamed Philippine officials referred to during a virtual news forum last Aug. 25 by “acting” Israeli ambassador in Manila Nir Balzam. It was Balzam who first spoke about certain Philippine government officials sounded him out if Israel can share their “best practices” to ensure the COVID-safe holding of our forthcoming election exercises. Israel had its own general elections held last March 23, the second one after last year’s pandemic outbreak.

So we Filipinos obviously could ill-afford to have a resurgence of COVID-19 infection after the 2022 elections.

With Delta and other foreign variants around us before we achieve population protection, Galvez assuaged us Filipinos that the government is on track to reach “herd immunity” vaccination goal. With the onset of the “ber” months of the year, the NTF vaccination tracker is aptly themed: “Making significant headway towards Christmas.”

During the same Zoom Webinar of our Kapihan sa Manila Bay, Galvez turned a bit emotional over alleged “pre-planned plunder” of public funds for anti-COVID expenditures. He rued such accusations came from the reported “deficiencies” raised in the 2020 annual review of the Commission on Audit (COA). So these COVID-19 issues will be the next chapter on Monday of our conversations with Galvez.

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