MANILA— The country's COVID-19 vaccination drive will proceed even in areas under the strictest lockdown level, Malacañang said on Friday, as authorities raced to contain the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant.
Metro Manila, home to some 13 million people, will be placed under the toughest lockdown level, the enhanced community quarantine, from Aug. 6 to 20. Iloilo province, Iloilo City, Cagayan De Oro City, and Gingoog City will also be under ECQ from Aug. 1 to 7.
ECQ allows gatherings "that are essential for the provision of health services," said Palace spokesman Harry Roque.
"Vaccinations are crucial to build a wall of defense against the Delta variant and to protect the population. Vaccinating individuals in this trying time is an essential health activity," he said in a statement.
"Our mass vaccination program will therefore continue and intensify for first and second dose, notwithstanding next week's ECQ classification of Metro Manila and other areas."
He said public transportation and vaccination sites should "have mechanisms to implement minimum public health standards," with which all must cooperate, he said.
The highly transmissible Delta variant, first detected in India, has spread rapidly across much of Southeast Asia.
The Philippines also extended a ban on travelers coming from 10 countries including India, Indonesia, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates to Aug. 15 to arrest the Delta variant's spread.
Already battling the second worst coronavirus outbreak in Asia, the Philippines has so far recorded over 1.57 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 27,000 deaths.
The country has reported 216 cases of the Delta variant, but health experts say there could be more undetected cases because of the slow pace of the country's genome sequencing.
The second wave in the Philippine outbreak peaked in April and after mainly trending low, infections started to rise again in recent weeks. Currently hospital occupancy in the capital area is 49 percent, while the rate for intensive care beds is 58 percent.
The government is aiming to fully immunize up to 70 million people before the year ends.
– With a report from Reuters