Pandemic end not applicable yet to PH as expert cites high COVID death rates
MANILA, Philippines — The World Health Organization (WHO) proclamation that the end of the COVID-19 pandemic is already ‘in sight’ might not apply to the Philippines yet, as an infectious diseases expert says death rates in the country are still high.
Dr. Rontgene M. Solante said during an interview during the Laging Handa briefing on Monday that he still cannot see the perspective of the pandemic nearing its end when talking about the Philippine setup due to community transmissions still occurring.
“All of the WHO regions are already reporting a significant decrease in the number of new cases and the number of new deaths. Now, the question is, are the same scenarios happening in the country?” Solante asked in Filipino.
“So now I cannot see the same scenario, right? Because although our COVID-19 cases now are lower compared to last January or September last year, we still have community transmissions, especially with this BA.5 variant,” he added.
He said that the WHO data shows that the Philippines has the fifth highest death rate worldwide regarding weekly new fatalities. Therefore the country is not likely to see the end of the pandemic in the next few months.
“We also see the data of the WHO, where the Philippines is fifth globally, reporting new deaths on a weekly basis last week. So this means that if we can actually see the end of the pandemic, it would not happen within the next two or three months because our cases are still high,” Solante noted.
“And in fact with our data now, several regions are considered under moderate risk, although health care utilization is not that high, it remains low,” he added.
Last September 15, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus released an optimistic outlook on the COVID-19 pandemic, telling reporters at a virtual press conference that the world has never been in a better position to end the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Ghebreyesus’ outlook was questioned by observers in the Philippines significantly since the positivity rate in Metro Manila rose from 13.2 percent to 16.4 percent last week.
In response, the Department of Health (DOH) said COVID-19 pandemic end would be within grasp only if targets in terms of vaccinations are met. Last September 9, DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire noted that Metro Manila might face 1,200 to approximately 5,300 COVID-19 infections per day if the booster update remains slow and people continue to be mobile.
Solante echoed DOH’s remarks, saying that wearing face masks and ensuring that the eligible population gets booster shots would contribute to improving situations.
“Well, in this manner, we always remind the public that we can do so much as an individual. First of all, we can wear our face masks, especially indoors and even outdoors in crowded situations,” he said.
“Second, our booster update, we hope that the number of our boostered population increases especially the vulnerable population, that they be given two doses, and general population with their first booster, because the increase in the boostered population percentage is a solution to the further decrease of our cases,” he added.
The warning from Solante — and the WHO head’s remarks — came after the national government allowed the optional wearing of face masks in uncrowded situations outdoors.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) initially considered relaxing face mask protocols during the state visit of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Singapore, which has already allowed the non-wearing of face masks except in high-risk settings like hospitals and public transportation.
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