After two weeks of the strictest lockdown phase, the National Capital Region Plus bubble has been placed under the less restrictive Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ). Also placed under MECQ were Abra province and Santiago City in Isabela.
More than a year after the entire Luzon was placed under ECQ for the first time, has the country made significant progress toward containing the contagion? The national health emergency has spawned a severe economic recession that snapped the country’s upward growth trajectory. On a third front, there is also a learning crisis as most schools continue to be on lockdown mode.
The problem is now more focused on the NCR Plus bubble where more than 80 percent of new cases have been registered since the onset of ECQ three weeks ago. The DOH announced last week the redeployment of 136 doctors and nurses from other regions in the country to seven DOH hospitals, two specialty hospitals, and one regional hospital in Metro Manila – all of whom are dedicated to provide additional support to the COVID-19 response.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque also announced that 3,156 beds have been added to meet the surge in new cases.
Still worrisome is the 75 percent occupancy of ICU beds indicating the high level of critical and severe cases. Thus, Roque pointed out that another measure to be implemented in the NCR Plus bubble is for the LGUs to prioritize the generation of demand for vaccination to those with the highest risk for severe disease and death, particularly Priority Groups A2 (senior citizens) and A3 (persons with comorbidities).
The slow rollout of vaccines has also raised the people’s anxiety level. Latest DOH figures (as of April 6, 2021) show that of the total 2,525,600 doses delivered, only 922,898 or less than 37 percent have been administered. Only 1,936,000 doses or 77 percent have been distributed to 2,670 vaccination sites. Clearly, much more needs to be done by the government to raise public awareness on the availability of vaccines and confidence in their efficacy so that more people will be motivated to be immunized.
Bishop Virgilio David of Caloocan City has tasked all 31 parishes in his diocese covering Caloocan, Navotas, and Malabon cities to create a health ministry that will mobilize volunteers who will work with government and private agencies in monitoring COVID-19 cases and caring for those infected. Patients will be given small packages containing medicines and vitamins, as well as rosaries and prayer cards. “We want to make them feel that they are cared for, not just spiritually but also physically, psychologically, and emotionally,” David said.
This comes on the heels of continuing complaints on the inadequacy of the assistance or “ayuda,” both in cash and in kind, extended by the government to needy families in the NCR Plus bubble. At a time of unease about the gnawing effects of a lingering pandemic, those who prefer to be hopeful look to the Filipinos’ innate gifts of faith and fortitude as pathways to a more auspicious future.