MANILA - A health expert on Thursday said the Philippines can reduce its daily COVID-19 cases, amid a worrying spike in new infections, if government ramps up its vaccination efforts "without rest for three months".
Earlier Thursday, the Philippines registered 8,773 more COVID-19 cases, a new record-high in just 3 days, bringing the country's total number of cases to 693,048.
Former COVID-19 task force adviser Tony Leachon said the country can contain the surge if its vaccination drive speeds up, citing Israel's ongoing inoculation drive wherein more than half of its 9 million citizens have received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine since last December.
Israel has recorded a significant drop in new infections in 3 months, receiving praise from international health experts and organizations.
"Israel, na number 1 ngayon sa highest vaccination rate in the world. Alam niyo ang nangyari? Bumaba na ang cases nila sa loob ng 3 buwan. Kaya kung mabibilisan natin 'yung pagbabakuna natin na 24/7, ibig sabihin walang tulugan ... gagawin natin ng 3 buwan, pwede nating mapababa," he said in a Facebook live video.
(Israel is number 1 in terms of highest vaccination rate in the world. Do you know what happened? Their cases declined within 3 months. So if we accelerate our vaccine drive, 24/7, meaning without rest … we can lower our cases in 3 months.)
Leachon said that the current lack of vaccines in the Philippines, however, poses a different scenario. As of Wednesday, the country has only received a total of 1,525,600 vaccine doses which health officials say aren't still enough to inoculate 1.7 million health workers that are prioritized in the vaccination rollout.
Authorities expect to receive just 2.3 million more vaccine doses between March and early April. The Philippines' population stands at around 110 million, based on data of the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM).
"Ang problema kasi, kakaunti lang 'yung bakuna na dumadating satin. Kaya 'di ito sustainable na pwede mangyari sa'tin (So this is not sustainable)," Leachon said.
Vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., who's also chief implementer of the National COVID-19 Task Force, earlier said the Philippines vaccinates an average of 23,000 to 30,000 daily. He said the government aims to vaccinate 70 million people, or two-thirds of its population against the deadly disease, this year.
Due to lack of vaccines and relaxed lockdown restrictions, Leachon recommended government to place Metro Manila and other regions severely hit by COVID-19 under modified enhanced community quarantine again for two weeks, and assess if they would need another two weeks of MECQ. Under this quarantine level, only one person per household would be allowed to go outside to buy food, public transportation would be limited and only essential services and establishments, like groceries and restaurants, would be allowed to operate.
Leachon also urged government to strengthen its COVID-19 testing and contact tracing capacities and build more isolation facilities to contain the deadly pathogen's spread.
Other public officials and experts have urged national government to speed up its spending on the Philippines' vaccination program and its rollout.
Despite having among the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Asia, the Philippines was the last Southeast Asian country to receive its initial set of vaccines.