Palace confident of mask-free Christmas this year

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 17 2021 04:26 PM

Palace confident of mask-free Christmas this year 1
Residents, including those categorized under A5 or indigents in Mandaluyong City, line up for their COVID-19 vaccine dose on June 16, 2021. Some cities have started inoculating their indigent residents with vaccines made by Pfizer as part of the prioritization framework of the World Health Organization. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — Malacañang on Thursday expressed optimism that Filipinos can ditch anti-virus masks in some public areas by Christmas this year, as the COVID-19 vaccination drive ramps up. 

Molecular biologist Fr. Nicanor Austriaco Jr., OP, in a Palace briefing, said Metro Manila and 8 focus areas could achieve COVID-19 containment by October, and herd immunity in November. 

"Kaya po 'yan," said Palace spokesman Harry Roque. 

"Kaya nga po we are aiming for population protection, 'yong containment na sinasabi ni Fr. Austriaco, kasi alam na natin na sa mga bansang nakamit na nila 'yong containment, hindi na sila nagmamaskara, at least sa outdoors," he said in the same briefing. 

(That is achievable. We are aiming for population protection, or containment as Fr. Austriaco put it, because we know that countries which have achieved containment no longer mask up, at least outdoors.)
 
Israel and parts of the US, among others, have contained their COVID-19 outbreaks, Roque noted. 

"That's what we are aiming for--tama po si Fr. Austriaco--a mask-less Christmas," he added. 

(Fr. Austriaco is right.) 

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"NCR Plus 8" includes Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, Metro Davao, Bulacan, Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Pampanga, and Rizal. 

"When we build herd immunity in the NCR Plus 8, we will protect the rest of the country because surges always begin in the NCR Plus 8," said Austriaco, who is a professor of biology and theology at Providence Colleges in the US. 

An area achieves "containment" once it has vaccinated about 40 to 50 percent of its population. This allows the attack rate or the proportion of people who become ill with a disease to drop to 1 in 100,000, he said. 

Containment protects against future surges, allows further reopening of the economy, and permits the non-wearing of masks in gatherings among vaccinated people, Austriaco said. 

Meanwhile, herd immunity protects the unvaccinated and will allow a return to the "old normal", he said. 

This happens when 70 to 80 percent of a population is vaccinated, and the COVID-19 attack rate is near zero, added Austriaco. 

The containment and herd immunity timeline is possible in November if NCR Plus 8 rolls out some 250,000 vaccinations daily, he said. 

"This is a realistic and attainable goal for all of us. We have to imagine, as a country, a no-mask Christmas," said the scientist-priest.