MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte said that better days are ahead for the country during a televised Cabinet meeting on Monday night as the downward trend in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases continues.
The Philippines on Tuesday reported only 356 new COVID-19 infections, the lowest single-day figure since July 2020. The new figure pushed the country’s total tally to 2,835,345, of which 97.8 percent or 2,772,728 have recovered.
Nikkei Asia’s COVID-19 Recovery Index also showed that the Philippines jumped 46 spots to 57th in November from 103rd in October this year.
During his address, Duterte expressed optimism that the Philippines has a good chance of overcoming the pandemic with the government’s aggressive immunization campaign, saying that “better days” lay ahead.
He noted that since Dec. 1, the daily average case number has remained between 500 and 600, while the “number of active cases continues to go down.”
“Very impressive,” Duterte said, as he also pointed out that the positivity rate is “now only less than 2 percent,” which means that for every 100 persons tested for COVID-19, only a maximum of two turned out to be positive.
“It’s Christmas. I hope that everything will be for the good of everybody, and I am very happy that it is really going down. It’s on a nosedive,” he added.
Duterte further said this development is a “miracle,” noting how “other countries are still reeling from the pandemic,” especially with the emergence of the omicron variant.
“We are not hoping for the best, but we pray to God that it will not come to our shores. But if (it) ever arrives, we can cope with it just as we did (in the past),” Duterte said.
Independent group OCTA Research fellow Rev. Nicanor Austriaco, a Catholic priest and molecular biologist, said the Philippines has attained substantial population immunity from natural infections and vaccinations in the urban areas based on current data.
Austriaco, who virtually joined the Cabinet meeting, made a presentation where he noted that the country had the highest mobility levels in the past 20 months and experienced the lowest levels of cases and hospitalizations during the same period, even with the presence of the COVID-19 delta variant.
“It suggests that we have attained substantial population immunity from natural infections and vaccinations in the urban areas of the Philippines because the pandemic has raged and spread primarily in our cities and in our first-class municipalities,” he said, adding: “The fact that the virus is struggling to find new Filipinos to infect, suggests that we have attained substantial population immunity.”
Austriaco compared the Philippines with its neighbors in Southeast Asia, Thailand and Malaysia, which he said still have not seen a dip in cases despite having much earlier surges. The two nations are still experiencing 5,000 cases per day.
Vietnam, he said, also had a delta peak and is still experiencing significant numbers of COVID-19 infections at 15,000 or so every day.
“The difference is that the Philippines, unlike these three other countries, had substantial waves of previous variants, especially the alpha and beta, which struck the country in March and April of this year,” Austriaco said.
“Combining the vaccinations and the natural immunity, what you are seeing here is that many of our cities where the pandemic tends to focus are now stable enough to prevent transmission,” he added.
The expert also advised Filipinos not to panic amid the threat posed by the omicron variant and instead move with caution and prepare for Christmas.
“Let us celebrate Christmas. This is the best time in 20 months for the entire country,” Austriaco said, adding: “This is not the time to panic. It is time to be careful. We have to prepare.”
Austriaco suggested that the country prepare its hospital infrastructure and increase healthcare workers’ staffing capacity, considering during the alpha and delta surges, the country had nursing shortages, especially in Metro Manila. He also recommended that the government continue vaccinating and boosting the immunity of its population, especially senior citizens.
“It must also strengthen population immunity around international gateways,” he said, predicting that the omicron variant will likely enter the country through an airport. “We have to build a wall of vaccinated Filipinos around these airports.”
On Monday, the Makati Medical Center, which has been dealing with hundreds of COVID-19 infections for nearly two years, reported zero in-patient cases as confirmed by its Medical Director Dr. Saturnino Javier. The medical center is located in the financial district of Metro Manila, which had become the epicenter of COVID-19 infections during the past months.
Last Friday, the Philippine General Hospital, the country’s biggest COVID-19 referral facility, also reported it had zero COVID-19 patient admission for two consecutive days.