The Philippines has already achieved substantial population immunity from COVID-19 as the government continues its effort to vaccinate the majority of the Filipino people, Malacanang said Monday night.
During President Duterte’s “Talk to the People” address, OCTA Research officer and molecular biologist Fr. Nicanor Austriaco Jr. said 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.
“These three… together… suggest that we have attained substantial population immunity from natural infections… because the pandemic has raged and spread primarily in our cities and in our first class municipalities,” he said. “The fact that the virus is struggling to find new Filipinos to infect suggests that we have attained substantial population immunity.”
Comparing the Philippines with its three neighbors in Southeast Asia, he said Thailand and Malaysia still haven’t seen a dip in cases despite having much earlier surges and the two nations are still experiencing 5,000 cases per day.
Vietnam, he said, also had a Delta peak. Unfortunately, Delta has resurged and Vietnam is still experiencing significant numbers of COVID-19 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 this year.
“And so 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,” Austriaco said.
He also advised Filipinos not to panic amid the threat posed by COVID-19 Omicron variant and instead move with caution, prepare, and celebrate Christmas.
“This is the best time in 20 months for the entire country,” Austriaco said.
“And so this is not the time to panic. It is time to be careful. We have to prepare. But we also have to celebrate especially since this is Christmas.”
Austriaco suggested that the country prepare its hospital infrastructure and increase health care workers staffing capacity, considering during the Alpha and Delta surges, the country had nursing shortages, especially in Metro Manila.
The government also has to continue vaccinating and boosting the immunity of its population, especially senior citizens.
And despite the waning number of infections, he appealed to Filipinos to get immunized.
President Rodrigo Duterte expressed optimism that the country can overcome the pandemic with its aggressive immunization campaign against the coronavirus.
“[We see] better days ahead because since Dec. 1, we have been on average [getting] 500 to 600 [new cases a day] and the number of active cases continues to go down,” Duterte said.
“In Davao last week there was only one. Very impressive. We continue to see a downward trend,” he said, adding that the positivity rate is now under 2 percent.
This means that for every 100 persons tested for COVID-19, only two turned out to be positive, the President said.
Duterte also said the government was able to administer 10.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines throughout the Philippines from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3, a huge achievement in the country’s fight against COVID-19.
“We will have a second round of Bayanihan Bakunahan from Dec. 15 to 17,” he said, announcing a second round of vaccination days.
Meanwhile, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said 23 highly urbanized cities have reached herd immunity against COVID-19.
The cities, mostly in Metro Manila, have fully vaccinated 70 percent or more of their target population, giving them herd immunity.
The list includes all 16 cities and one municipality in Metro Manila, Baguio City, Angeles City, Iloilo City, Lapu-Lapu City, Mandaue City and Davao City.
The Philippines logged on Tuesday logged 356 new COVID-19 cases bringing the total number of cases to 2,835,345.
This was the lowest daily number of cases recorded since July 2, 2020.
There were 92 new fatalities recorded, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 49,591.
The DOH also reported 871 new recoveries, bringing the total number of recoveries to 2,772,728.
There were 13,026 active cases, of which 899 were asymptomatic; 5,314 mild; 3,900 moderate; 2,326 severe; and 587 critical.
The positivity rate was at 1.4 percent, based on test results of samples from of 24,360 people tested on Dec. 5.
Nationwide, 26 percent of ICU beds, 25 percent of isolation beds, 13 percent of ward beds, and 14 percent of ventilators, were in use.
In Metro Manila, 29 percent of ICU beds, 21 percent of isolation beds, 19 percent of ward beds, and 16 percent of ventilators, were in use.
On Tuesday, the Palace said the Philippines’ improved ranking in the 2021 Nikkei Asia COVID-19 Recovery Index from 103rd in October 2021 to 57th place in November 2021 is a clear indication that the country has successfully contained the highly transmissible Delta variant.
According to Nikkei Asia, the Philippines fared better than Australia, United States, Thailand, Russia, Singapore, Germany, Switzerland, and Vietnam.
“As we previously stated, rankings such as these should factor in country-specific COVID-19 context. Our 121st September and 103rd October rankings were done when the Philippines was experiencing a spike of cases brought about by the Delta variant,” Cabinet Secretary and acting presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said in a press briefing.
He also urged the public to continue to remain vigilant especially in the coming holiday season.
“It’s true, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel; but the only way we can get to the end is if we continue to carefully watch our step. Let's continue to wear masks, wash hands and [observe] social distancing,” Nograles said.
The Palace official also shared the news of the country’s upgraded ranking in the 2021 Global Hunger Index, where the country ranked eighth among 21 economies in South Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.
The country’s current Global Hunger Index score is at 16.8, which was at 20.5 in 2012, 20.4 in 2006, and 25.0 in 2000. The index uses four indicators, namely: undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality.