MANILA - The public is urged to continue following minimum health standards as vaccination against COVID-19 may take several years, the World Health Organization said Monday.
It is necessary to sustain performing hand hygiene, observing physical distancing, and wearing of face masks as these have been proven to be effective not just against the coronavirus but also in suppressing its new variants, said Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative to the Philippines.
"The vaccines are not going to help open the world right now. We will still need to follow all the behaviors we've been following over the last 1 year because the transmission is going to continue and we’re not going to be able to vaccinate everybody probably for another 2 years or more," he told ANC's Headstart.
"In that, we’re talking about nobody is absolutely safe until the whole world is safe."
Government is urged to continue to monitor the pandemic "very carefully and be proactive" to prevent large-scale lockdowns that have economic consequences, Abeyasinghe said.
As for face to face classes, the WHO representative said the level of virus transmission must be taken into account.
"If the pandemic transmission is decreasing, there may be an opportunity for us to open up schools. Where you're seeing increased transmission in the community, countries which opened up schools have seen significantly higher proportion of infection among children. So this something that needs to be weighed and balance," he said.
"Another thing we need to factor in is congestion in schools, the access to hand hygiene."
The WHO does not have a "clear decision" on requiring vaccination documents to be able to travel, according to Abeyasinghe.
The international body also has yet to confirm any positions or findings about the new COVID-19 variants which reportedly are more contagious and may lead to severe cases, he added.
"It’s not surprising that we’re seeing the emergence of new variants. The critical issue is to understand what is the capacity of these new variants," he said.
"These issues are being studied jointly with WHO and the respective countries seeing those variants. Data is very premature and it needs to be carefully evaluated."
The Philippines has reported 17 cases of the UK variant of COVID-19, which is among the country's 525,618 confirmed coronavirus infections, as of Sunday.
Globally, nearly 103 million infections have so far been tallied by the US-based Johns Hopkins University, including over 2.2 million deaths.
In early December, the world's first COVID-19 vaccine shot was received by a British grandma in the United Kingdom. A few other countries, including the United States, Singapore, and Indonesia, subsequently launched their respective inoculation programs.
The Philippines will start receiving its COVID-19 vaccine supplies this month. Up to 70 million people are targeted for vaccination to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus.