MANILA (UPDATE) - There would no more COVID lockdowns in the Philippines, President Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos Jr vowed during his State of the Nation Address on Monday, while he promised to build a vaccine institute and a center for disease control and prevention.
Government will continue to implement the alert level system for now, the President said during the SONA at the Batasan Pambansa in Quezon City.
The Philippines recorded one of the world's longest lockdowns, where some violators were detained and ordered to pay fines.
"'Di na natin kakayanin ang isa pang lockdown. Wala na tayong gagawing lockdown. Dapat nating balansehin nang maayos ang kalusugan at kapakanan ng ating mga mamamayan sa isang banda at ang ekonomiya sa isa namang banda," he said.
(We can't endure another lockdown. We will no longer enforce lockdowns. We need to balance the health and welfare of our people on one hand and the economy on the other.)
Philippines began its record-breaking lockdown on March 15, 2020, covering the National Capital Region then whole of Luzon to curb the spread of the dreaded respiratory disease. Weeks later, the government was forced to take out loans, while several businesses shut down leading to millions losing their jobs. The education sector also suffered, with millions of students forced to attend schools online.
Post-pandemic, Marcos said there remains a need to strengthen the healthcare system. He vowed to build more hospitals, clinics and regional health units.
"The need for a stronger healthcare system is self-evident. We must bring medical service to the people and not wait for them to come to the hospital and healthcare centers," he said.
Marcos also emphasized the need for lower cost of medical drugs and said the Department of Trade and Industry is in talks with generic brand manufacturers.
The President said he has directed the Department of Health and the Department of the Interior and Local Government to "undertake another rollout of booster shots" as he supported the return of students to in-person classes.
The DOH earlier said it aims to administer 23 million COVID-19 booster jabs within the President's first 100 days.
Nearly a month after assuming office, Marcos has yet to name his health chief and has designated as the officer-in-charge Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, who previously served as the agency's spokesperson.
The Philippines in recent months detected over a thousand highly transmissible omicron subvariants that caused a surge in the US, Europe, and Africa.
It remains "low risk" for COVID-19 cases despite a 40-percent rise in the previous week, the DOH earlier said.
Majority of patients were asymptomatic or experience mild symptoms and healthcare utilization remains at a "low risk" 24 percent, the agency said.
"Our latest projections are showing that these case increases may translate to a spike in total and ICU admissions in October, if compliance with minimum public health standard (MPHS) continues to decline and booster rates remain low," the DOH said in a separate statement.
Marcos in his inaugural address vowed "changes" in the situation of Filipino nurses and more transparency in the country's COVID-19 response.