[This is the third of Blue & Gold’s three-part multimedia report about the year-long community quarantine implemented in the Philippines. You can also read part 1 and part 2.]

This week marks the one year anniversary of the lockdown in the Philippines, which is longest in the world, as a precautionary measure against the COVID-19 pandemic, with the first local case identified on January 30, 2020.

A number of community quarantine measures have been implemented since March 2020, first in Metro Manila, which was then expanded to Luzon before applying it to the entire country.

As of March 15, 2021, a year after the first quarantine measure was announced, the country logged 5,404 cases, its highest since August 2020.

Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., vaccine czar and COVID-19 National Task Force chief implementer, confirmed that he had signed the confidentiality data agreement (CDA) with pharmaceutical company Pfizer last December 2, a step further on the country’s possible purchase of coronavirus vaccines.

On December 4, the Department of Science and Technology found that virgin coconut oil could help reduce symptoms of suspected COVID-19 cases. Vergeire added that scientists continue to conduct more research to use it as a possible “adjunct therapy,” where it would support the treatment of the said virus.

Photo by Audny Mae Bermas

The Christmas season was very different in 2020; people were forced to stay home and away from their loved ones during Christmas and New Year as gathering together during the pandemic would only increase the risk of the spread of the virus.  

On November 30, Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said that “family reunions are considered mass gatherings.” Mass gatherings that included 10 or more people were “to be disbanded by the government and violators would be held liable.”

Strict health protocols were still enforced even during the holidays to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.  

“We can still have a meaningful Christmas even if we stay at home and reconnect with our friends and families online,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said. 

Families and relatives were forced to celebrate the holidays apart as gathering would only increase the risk of the infection spreading.

On December 29, the government approved Janssen Pharmaceutica’s Phase 3 trials in the country for its coronavirus vaccines. The company was one of the three that applied for trials, with Sinovac Biotech and Clover Biopharmaceuticals’ application ongoing.

Both Sinovac Biotech and Clover Biopharmaceuticals are Chinese companies.

The Philippines ended 2020 with 474,064 COVID-19 cases, 439,796 recoveries, and 9,244 deaths.

Photo by Roland Michael Mendoza

As 2021 arrived, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) allowed more businesses such as parks, malls, museums, and tourist spots to reopen and resume operations. Strict health protocols would still be implemented to lower the risk of the infection spreading.  

This however was met with mixed reactions from the public and by health workers stating that the reopening of businesses would not only bring back jobs and businesses, but it might also cause a surge in cases of infections.

On January 6, 2021, Hong Kong detected a COVID-19 variant in a passenger from Manila.

The patient is a 30-year-old female who returned from Manila last December 22. The new COVID-19 variant, dubbed as B117, is believed to be more contagious compared to the original counterpart.

Photo by Ericka Del Mundo

On January 10, the government entered a deal to procure 30 million doses of Covovax vaccine from India’s Serum Institute. It is expected to be available by 2021’s third quarter.

Several cities and provinces have already started publicizing their vaccine plans. Manila City inked the deal with AstraZeneca for 800,000 doses of its vaccines, while Valenzuela City signed the deal with the same vaccine maker for 640,000 doses. 

Noveleta, the smallest town in Cavite, allotted 10 million pesos as funds for COVID-19 vaccines.

Meanwhile, on January 26, Pasig City became the first LGU to have its vaccination plan be approved. 

By end-January, cases confirmed breached 525,618, with deaths up to 10,749 and 487,551 recoveries.

The pandemic task force presented its list of priority groups for the COVID-19 inoculation program last February 5, 2021. The list includes frontline health workers, the elderly, persons with comorbidities, frontline personnel, and the indigent population as its priority groups.

On February 11, ASEAN Studies Centre released the findings of its online survey. Most Filipinos disapprove of the government’s COVID-19 response among all Southeast Asians.

COVID-19 cases posted over 2,000 for a fourth consecutive day by the end of February. That time, the Philippines had 576,352 confirmed cases, 12,318 deaths, and 534,271 recoveries.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Presidential Spokesperson Roque

On February 28, the aircraft delivering Sinovac vaccines landed at Villamor Air Base at 4:10 pm.

Last February, the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG), approved the use of Sinovac vaccines on health workers, but the Food and Drug Association suggested against its use on health workers due to low efficacy. 

However, Sinovac was recommended for use on the working population and military personnel.  

“There is light at the end of the tunnel. That is light at the end of the tunnel,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said during an interview. 

Video edited by Simon Miguel Subong

March 1 proved to be a day of hope for the Philippines as the first batch of Sinovac vaccines donated by China was legally administered in the country.

University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital Director Gerardo Legaspi was the first to roll up his sleeve and receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

On March 6, a batch of 487,200 Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccines from the COVAX global facility arrived in the country and became available to health workers that refused the SINOVAC vaccine.

According to Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez, an additional million doses of Sinovac’s vaccines are expected to arrive in PH within March. Additional AstraZeneca doses are expected to arrive also, but with no exact date.

In a press conference, Roque stated that health workers have the option to refuse the Sinovac vaccine and wait for vaccines with better efficacy. He added that they will be prioritized when these new vaccines arrive.

But while vaccines continue to be administered, new strains of the virus, which were more potent, have been detected in the Philippines.

 One new strain originates from the United Kingdom, which has been detected in 50 other countries and seems to be constantly mutating.  

Another strain originating from South Africa was detected in 20 other countries, including the UK. On March 2, DOH reported six cases of the said variant, also known as B1351.

On March 13, the Health Department confirmed new mutations in the country, one from Brazil, called P1, and one mutation ‘unique’ to the Philippines.

The health department meanwhile said that it was more accurate to describe it as a ‘variant first reported in the Philippines’ and not yet a ‘Philippine variant.’

The Philippines is now faced with all four mutations of COVID-19; British strain, South Africa strain, Brazil strain, and the fourth variant being a local strain.

Current vaccines being developed were designed from the earlier stages of COVID-19. Scientists believe it may work on the new strains but with lessened effectivity

On its lockdown anniversary on March 15, the Philippines faced COVID-19 surges as 5,404 cases were tallied.

Photo by Ericka Del Mundo

Frontliners from PGH, San Lazaro Hospital, Philippine Lung Center, and East Avenue Medical Center confirmed that they were operating at full capacity.

Amid a spike in COVID-19 cases, Metro Manila mayors imposed ‘uniform’ curfew hours, from 10 PM to 5 AM, for two weeks.

COVID-19 has put the entire world at a standstill, its infection spreading among our country and shutting down businesses and livelihoods. Amidst one of the longest lockdowns in the world, we must remain cautious and vigilant as there is still a risk of infection every time we leave the safety of our homes.

Yet, it is our responsibility to keep ourselves and the people around us safe. We must remain hopeful for the future to come.

With reports from: BBC News, CNN Philippines, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Inquirer.net, Philstar.com, and Rappler

Writer: Michael Andrew Mendoza
Featured Photo: Rhyan Quiambao
Layout: Bea Marie Ongkiko, Eunice Micah Patricio

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