MANILA - Armed with the hopes of a coronavirus vaccine by December, President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday said he expects life in the country to return to normal by the end of the year even as the country continues to battle the pandemic.
Duterte, in an address taped Thursday and aired Friday morning, rejected calls to adapt to a "new normal" or a life upended by the virus, saying the Philippines could return to the way things were before the pandemic disrupted the world.
"I promise you by the grace of God, I hope by December we would be back to normal. Huwag ninyo ‘yang new normal, new normal kasi sabi ko nga noon pag-umpisa natin hintayin lang natin ‘yung vaccine," the President said.
(Don't mind the new normal because as I told you from the start, we'll wait for the vaccine.)
"We are not going back to a new normal. It’s going to be normal again," he added.
COVID-19, which has infected over 17 million people worldwide and plunged several nations into recession, was first reported in a Chinese province in December last year and has since become a global health and economic crisis.
The pandemic forced the first contraction of the Philippine economy since 1998 at 0.2 percent in March or while most of the country was on strict lockdown.
In April, government data showed that unemployment soared to 17.7 percent which translates to some 7.3 million jobless Filipinos.
As the pandemic continues to threaten the life and livelihood of Filipinos, Duterte is pinning his hopes on China, which he said could be the source of Manila's first COVID-19 vaccine.
"Ang una nga makuha siguro natin from China," Duterte said, noting that China's Sinopharm and Sinovac have reported progress in their inactive vaccines.
(The first ones we could get would probably be from China.)
Chinese firms are responsible for 2 of the 3 most advanced coronavirus vaccines that had entered Phase 3 trials, or large-scale testing on humans -- the last step before regulatory approval.
COVID-19 IMMUNIZATION PLAN
Should a COVID-19 vaccine be made available soon, President Duterte said the government would prioritize the "poorest of the poor."
"Ang mauna, 'yung walang-wala at saka of course those in the hospitals, ‘yung mga sick or dying. Ang una talaga 'yung mga tao sa listahan na tumatanggap ng assistance sa gobyerno,” he said.
(We will prioritize the poorest of the poor, and those who are sick and dying in hospitals. The priority is really those who accept aid from the government.)
The government could provide free immunization for 20 million of the poorest people in the country, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said as the Philippines could initially purchase at least 40 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines with the help of the Philippine International Trading Corp, and financed by the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines.
"May financing plan kami dyan. Ang estimate we will need to vaccinate for free for a minimum of 20 million people...The financing is available for this program," Dominguez said.
(We have a financing plan for that. Our estimate is that we will need to vaccinate for free for a minimum of 20 million people)
The President said he would leave the distribution of the vaccines to the military-- which he hailed as the "backbone" of his administration along with the police.
Soldiers, police officers, and middle-income earners would also be eligible for free COVID-19 immunization, the President said.
He, however, apologized to well-off Filipinos, saying they should purchase their own vaccines and rejected immunizing drug offenders, who he labeled as "dogs."
"Itong mga mayaman, huwag na ninyo akong isipin kasi hindi ako nag-iisip sa inyo. Sorry na lang," he said.
(To the rich, don't think of me because I don't think of you. I'm sorry.)
The President revealed the government's immunization plan just as the Philippines reported on Thursday 3,954 new COVID-19 cases, the highest single-day tally since the country recorded its first COVID-19 case back in January.
The record-high new cases pushed the country's cumulative total of COVID-19 infections to 89,374, of which, 22,327 are active.