Mobilize society in fighting COVID-19 outbreak, says former health secretary

Aleta Nieva Nishimori, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 03 2020 09:54 AM | Updated as of Oct 03 2020 10:14 AM

Churchgoers attend the first mass at the Manila Cathedral when it reopened to the public on Sept. 16, 2020 amid the General Community Quarantine in Metro Manila due to the coronavirus pandemic. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Government needs to mobilize the whole of society to combat the rising number of COVID-19 infections in the country, former health secretary Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan said Saturday.

“Oras na para tawagin na ng ating Pangulo at mga lider, kahit sa local government, itong lahat ng may kakayanang tumulong, talagang whole of society, whole of government, whole of systems na ang nagko-coordinate at kailangan kumibo na ngayon. Udyok na para kumilos tayo ng nagkakaisa,” Tan said in an interview on Teleradyo.

(It’s time for the President and other leaders to call on all those who have the capacity to help, the whole society, whole of government, whole of systems to coordinate. It’s time to take unified action.)

The Philippines has seen one of the longest coronavirus lockdowns in the world yet the number of infections continued to rise. Health officials and experts, however, recently noted signs of improvement.

For Tan, government must seek help from civil society and the private sector to combat COVID-19.

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“Ngayon, parang inako masyado ng gobyerno, ‘di niya masyadong pinakilos ang civil society o kaya pati private sector— 'yun ang tinatawag nating whole of society, kabuuan ng lipunan pakilusin sana lahat pati local government,” Tan said in an interview on TeleRadyo.

(The government seemed to have taken all the responsibilities, it did not mobilize the civil society or even the private sector—that’s what we call the whole of society.)

Several local government units have, however, earned praise for response to the crisis, from providing social aid to enforcing prevention and quarantine measures.

On Thursday, the Philippines ranked 20th among countries with the highest number of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic started.

As of Friday, the Philippines has logged 316,678 confirmed COVID-19 infections, including 56,445 active cases. Of the total, 254,617 have recovered and 5,616 have died.

The Philippines as of Thursday has tested some 3.5 million people for the novel coronavirus, about half a year since the pandemic prompted varying degrees of lockdown that left millions jobless and dragged the economy into recession.

Government is largely counting on a vaccine to end the pandemic.

“Kailangan kasi ang mga mamamayan ay inspirado na. Ngayon parang nakapako tayo sa bakuna,” Tan said.

(People need to be inspired. Now, it seems that we're fixed on a vaccine.)

Last month, the Department of Health said it was just waiting for Russia to provide more information on its coronavirus vaccine candidate, Sputnik V, before its clinical trials in the Philippines could start.

The Philippines might also start its participation in the World Health Organization's clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines on the last week of October.

The DOH is also in “close coordination” with the proponents of 2 vaccines from the UK and US who are eyeing a clinical trial in Cavite.

But Tan said it may take about a year before a vaccine is developed.

“Biro mo, isang taon tayong ganito. Kung aantayin natin 'yung bakuna ang dami na talagang magkakaraoon,” he said.

(We’ll be stuck like this for a year. More people will get infected if we wait for a vaccine.)

Another area that needs improvement is contact tracing and getting the results of COVID-19 tests out faster.

“Napakatagal malaman, pati ang ating mga datos hindi up to date,” he said.

(It takes a long time to get the results and even are data is not up to date.)

He said the government should also allow more health experts from around the Philippines to help them.