MANILA, Philippines—It has been a year since the Philippines recorded its first case of novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and yet the country still continues to grapple with SARS Cov2, the virus that causes it.
- On Jan. 30, 2020, almost a month after China reported a “cluster” of pneumonia cases “of unknown cause” in Wuhan, the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed the first case of “novel coronavirus 2019” in the country. The first patient was from Wuhan, then the epicenter of the new virus, who arrived to the Philippines via Hong Kong. Upon arriving in the Philippines, the woman showed no symptoms.
- On Jan. 31, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global emergency after the virus spread to more than a dozen countries. Aside from China and the Philippines, there were also recorded cases in the United States, France, Japan, Germany, Canada, South Korea and Vietnam.
- In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered a temporary ban on the entry of Chinese nationals from China’s Hubei province, Wuhan City.
- The Department of Health (DOH) on Feb. 2 recorded the first COVID-19 fatality in the country. According to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, the patient was a 44-year old Chinese man who was admitted to San Lazaro Hospital for pneumonia after experiencing fever, cough and sore throat.
- Duterte on Feb. 3 tried to allay the people’s apprehension by telling Filipinos to be not afraid of the virus. “Let’s start with narratives by saying that everything is well in the country, that there’s nothing really to be extra scared of the coronavirus thing,” he said at a press briefing.
- On Feb. 8, a team from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) went to Wuhan City to help repatriate stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). At least 30 OFWs from Wuhan were sent home by the DFA repatriation team.
- DFA reported on Feb. 27 that at least 27 Filipinos aboard the MV Grand Princess, a cruise ship quarantined off Yokohama, Japan, have tested positive for SARS Cov2. It was earlier reported that there were 3,711 passengers on the ship.
- On March 7 DOH confirmed the first local transmission of the virus after the wife of the patient recorded as having the fifth case of COVID-19 in the Philippines, a 62-year-old male who often visited the Muslim prayer hall at Greenhills, had also been infected.
- Duterte signed Proclamation No. 922 on March 8 declaring a state of a public health emergency as the total number of COVID-19 cases in the country rose to 24.
- The entire Metro Manila was placed on “community quarantine” on March 12 as the government scrambled to contain the spread of SARS Cov2. Domestic land, air and sea travel to and from Metro Manila had been suspended from March 15, 2020 to April 14.
- A few days after Duterte placed Metro Manila on community quarantine, on March 16 he then decided to implement an enhanced community quarantine for the entire island of Luzon. Under enhanced community quarantine, “strict home quarantine shall be implemented in all households; transportation shall be suspended; provision for food and essential services shall be regulated, and heightened presence of uniformed personnel to enforce quarantine procedures will be implemented.”
- The President on March 17 signed Proclamation No. 929, declaring a state of calamity in the entire country for a period of six months “unless earlier lifted or extended as circumstances may warrant.” This allowed local government units (LGUs) to access quick response funds during emergency situations.
- The President on March 25 also signed the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, a measure granting him special powers as the country was plunged into a health crisis due to COVID-19. Under the law, financial aid will be given to health workers who contracted the disease. Some 18 million low-income households will receive emergency subsidies amounting to P5,000 to P8,000 for two months. Duterte was also given authority, for a limited period, to realign government funds to pandemic response.
- The government on April 3 decided to make it mandatory to wear masks in public areas, especially in Luzon which was placed under a month-long lockdown.
- The first local, targeted virus mass testing in Metro Manila officially began on April 12, when Valenzuela City started administering free tests for health workers on the frontlines, returning overseas Filipino workers and residents being monitored for coronavirus symptoms.
- On May 12, Metro Manila, Laguna province, and Cebu City have been placed on modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) from May 16 until the end of May. The movement of people in these areas—which the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases classified as “high risk” communities—will continue to be severely restricted under the extended lockdown, with most allowed to leave their homes only to buy food and other necessities and only in cases of emergency. Under modified ECQ, some industries will be allowed to reopen in a limited capacity.
- The Social Weather Stations (SWS) released results of a survey on May 21 which revealed that more Filipinos said they experienced involuntary hunger during the COVID-19 lockdown. In summary, at least 16.7 percent, or 3.9 million families, went hungry during the past three months. This is the highest hunger rate registered under Duterte’s term.
- The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on June 10 reported that it has released P355.1 billion for COVID-19 response. Among the departments and government agencies that received the bulk sum were the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Department of Finance (DOF), DOH, and the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH).
- On June 17, health reform advocate Dr. Tony Leachon vacated his post as the special adviser to the National Task Force against Covid-19.
- On July 24, the Philippines joined the COVAX Facility, also known as the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Acces Facility, a global mechanism designed to guarantee rapid, fair, and equitable access to coronavirus vaccines worldwide. It is co-led by Gavi, an international organization created to improve access to new and underused vaccines, and also involved the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization.
- On July 31, Duterte assured Filipinos that life will be “back to normal” before the year 2020 ends. “I promise you, by the grace of God, I hope by December, we would be back to normal,” he said in a taped speech.
- On Sept. 18, through Proclamation No. 1021, Duterte extended the state of calamity “for a period of one year, effective 13 September 2020 to 12 September 2021, unless earlier lifted or extended as circumstances may warrant.”
- On Oct. 2, after the country’s total cases reached 314,079, Johns Hopkins University’s virus tracker identified the Philippines as among 20 countries with the most COVID-19 cases worldwide. The Philippines was also recorded as the country with the longest lockdown in the world.
- Duterte on Oct. 27 ordered the DOH to first seek government-to-government transactions on the procurement of coronavirus vaccines, saying that transacting with private firms may result in anomalies. He rejected the vaccine procurement arrangement where the government directly buys from pharmaceutical companies.
- Duterte on Nov. 2 designated National Task Force (NTF) on COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. as the country’s vaccine czar.
- China on Nov. 18 barred the entry of Filipinos with valid visas and residence permits, due to the high number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. According to an advisory by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), “the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Philippines has issued a notice temporarily suspending the entry into China of non-Chinese nationals in the Philippines holding visas or residence permits still valid as of 05 November 2020.”Duterte on Nov. 19 approved “in principle” the recommendation of health authorities to allow the FDA to grant emergency use authorization (EUA) to coronavirus vaccines that will enter the country. An EUA from the FDA will allow vaccines to be legally rolled out and administered in the country.
- On Dec. 2, the health secretary rejected Local Government Secretary Eduardo Ano’s proposal to allow minors to go outside their homes and, much more, go to malls, saying that minors are not immune from infection and could also be spreaders of the virus.
- Metro Manila mayors on Dec. 3 voted not to allow minors aged 17 years old and below to leave their homes and visit shopping malls while GCQ is still in effect.
- In a series of tweets, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said that the government was about to secure 10 million doses of coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer until someone “dropped the ball.” On Dec. 16, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said it was Health Secretary Francisco Duque who fumbled, accusing the health chief of failing to submit documents for the procurement of Pfizer vaccines. The health secretary denied the accusations.
- The country on Dec. 23 suspended all flights from the UK starting Dec. 24 amid reports of a new coronavirus variant believed to be more infectious.
- Duterte on Dec. 25 revealed that many, including some members of the military, have already been injected with vaccines from China’s Sinopharm, a state-owned company.
- On Dec. 29, the government has expanded its travel ban to 19 more countries to prevent the transmission of the new coronavirus variant.
- The country closed 2020 with 474,064 cases of COVID-19 with 439,796 recoveries and 9,244 deaths.
- Hong Kong officials on Jan. 6 reported that they have detected the presence of the new coronavirus variant, believed to be more infectious, in a passenger who returned from the Philippines last Dec. 22.
- LGUs and private firms have announced signing deals with British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca for the procurement of vaccines.
- The national government also said that the country has secured vaccine doses from AstraZeneca, Sinovac and the COVAX Facility of the World Health Organization. Government officials also said negotiations continue with other vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer, Moderna and Gamaleya.
- The UK variant, which experts said could be 70 percent more contagious, has been detected in the Philippines on Jan. 13.
- According to the DOH, the 29-year-old male carrier of the variant, B117, is a resident of Quezon City who left for Dubai last Dec. 27 for business and returned to the Philippines last Jan. 7 via Emirates flight No. EK 332.
- DOH said on Jan. 22 that the B117 variant of the virus has been found in a total of 17 patients in the country — including 12 from Bontoc, Mountain Province.On Jan. 24, a panel of government experts has approved the Philippine Red Cross’ (PRC) initiative to use the cheaper and less invasive coronavirus saliva test. The PRC started the pilot run of the new tests last Jan. 12 and trial was completed last Jan. 18.
- Roque on Jan. 26 announced that Duterte will receive his vaccine shot in private because the President wanted to be injected in the buttocks.
- In the meantime, the DOH has confirmed local transmission of the more contagious virus mutation in Bontoc.
- On Jan. 27, Galvez said the country’s “best-case scenario” is to inoculate 60 to 70 percent of the population by the fourth quarter of 2021.
- On the same day, he also announced that the government is expecting to receive over one million vaccine doses as early as February.
- The FDA granted an EUA to the British drugmaker AstraZeneca’s vaccine on Jan. 28. This is the second vaccine brand to receive an EUA in after Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine.
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