The mayor of Iloilo City on Monday blamed the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the Western Visayas to the allocation of most vaccine doses to Metro Manila and its surrounding provinces.
At a briefing Monday, Mayor Geronimo Treñas said national government officials must listen to local executives.
“We have been informing the Secretary [Carlito] Galvez we need medical personnel, equipment, COVID-19 meds, and vaccines because ultimately what will give protection to our constituents would be the vaccine,” Treñas said.
The city has so far administered first doses to some 45,000 residents out of its target 450,000. Some 9,000 have received their second doses, the mayor added.
“OCTA had recommended that 90 percent of these vaccines will be allocated to NCR Plus 8 and now, this is the result of their recommendation,” he said, referring to the independent OCTA Research Group that makes recommendations to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).
“It’s about time that we should also listen to the local leaders. It’s the local leader who understands what’s happening to us,” Treñas said. “It’s not OCTA who understands what’s happening to our constituents.”
The mayor said several cities outside the NCR Plus 8 (Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, Metro Davao, Bulacan, Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Pampanga, and Rizal) are in critical condition because of OCTA’s recommendation.
OCTA member Guido David said the decision to give priority to NCR Plus 8 was made by the national government, saying the group is not an official advisor but merely submits recommendations to the IATF, which may or may not decide to follow them.
Senator Grace Poe urged the IATF to immediately act on the appeal of Iloilo province and other high-risk local governments to augment their resources for COVID-19 relief to treat the rising influx of patients.
Poe called for immediate action in addressing the resource shortage in Iloilo as well as in areas bearing the brunt of the virus surge.
At the same time, she said the critical areas should get more vaccines to arrest the virus spread and ease the pressure on the health systems of local government units.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DOH) denied allegations that Davao province, President Duterte’s bailiwick, has received most of the Pfizer vaccines delivered to the Philippines.
In an online press conference, Health Undersecretary Abdullah Dumama Jr. said both Davao and Cebu received 210,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines.
“There is no difference in the number of doses deployed to Cebu and to Davao... There is no favoritism here,” Dumama said in Filipino.
“This is not just for Davao City. This is for the entire Davao region and other nearby areas,” he added.
Officials said Davao received a large number of doses because the region has the cold storage facilities needed to handle the Pfizer vaccine.
DOH spokesperson and Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said only five regions in the Philippines have yet to receive Pfizer vaccines due to the lack of ultra-low temperature storage facilities.
She also said the spike in COVID-19 cases in the Visayas and Mindanao was due to many factors, including complacency in observing health protocols and the presence of more transmissible variants.
These regions are Mimaropa, Bicol, Soccsksargen, Caraga, and the Bangsamoro, she said.
The Bangsamoro parliament is preparing a resolution that would authorize the autonomous region to procure ultra-low-temperature freezers and increase the number of COVID-19 testing facilities in the area, Dumama said.
As of June 17, the Philippines has received 2.46 million vaccines from Pfizer.
The government earlier said it has signed a deal with the American pharmaceutical giant for 40 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, calling it the biggest vaccine procurement this year.
A doctors’ organization expressed alarm on Monday over the rising COVID-19 cases in Bicol, saying infections are occurring within households.
“Family members are getting infected with COVID-19. So, sometimes a couple or a family are occupying a hospital room,” Dr. Eloisa Pornillos, president of Philippine College of Physicians-Bicol Chapter, told ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo.
Last week, Bicol logged an additional 212 coronavirus infections, raising its tally to 16,153. So far, 507 have died from the disease.
Camarines Sur (4,522), Sorsogon (2,410) and Albay (2,296) recorded the most COVID-19 cases among provinces.
Pornillos said beds dedicated to coronavirus patients were fully occupied.
“What I can say, for the past two weeks, we still have the same problem. No vacancy,” she said.
Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said that Bicol’s hospital utilization rate was critical due to the surge of COVID-19 cases.
“There’s a surge in Bicol now... Naga and Legazpi, there’s a surge that’s why testing, contact tracing and isolating the infected have been aggressive. Those have to be done to stem the increase,” he said in Filipino.
The region is under varying quarantine restrictions to halt the spread of the virus.
The top DOH official in Eastern Visayas classified the current surge of coronavirus disease 2019 cases as very alarming, reiterating calls to the public to stay at home.
Concerned by record-breaking figures of new cases in the past few days, DOH regional director Exuperia Sabalberino said the situation “reflects the region’s momentary complacency.”
“Our situation right now is very alarming so let us not go out of our homes if unnecessary. The health and well-being of our families are of utmost importance. This is not a time to be complacent, but a time to be vigilant and wary of the possibility of the continuous spread of the virus,” Sabalberino said in a statement issued late Wednesday.
On Thursday, the region recorded 572 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, the highest number reported in a single day since the start of the global pandemic last year.
The 572 new cases were part of 1,855 samples examined by the three testing laboratories in the region and the Philippine Red Cross testing facility in Cebu City, the DOH here reported.
Of the total number of new patients, 112 were from Tacloban City, 163 from Leyte, 28 from Ormoc City, 82 from Southern Leyte, 123 from Northern Samar, 15 from Eastern Samar, 44 from Samar, and five from Biliran province.
With the new infections, the region’s total cases climbed to 23,338, including 20,948 recoveries, and 332 deaths. There are still 2,058 active cases in six provinces and seven cities in the region.
The DOH largely attributed the record-high cases to super spreader events such as fiestas, parties, reunions, and other social gatherings.
It reminded the public to limit physical interactions with others, avoid mass gatherings, and keep a physical distance of at least one meter from each other.
The agency also reiterated the importance of wearing face masks and face shields when out in public, regular hand washing, and the observance of cough etiquette to prevent the spread of the virus.