Last year, when COVID-19 became a full-blown pandemic sweeping across the globe, it managed to secure a prominent place at the forefront of local news. From the initial strict lockdown days, to the mid-2020 relaxation and case spike, to the rollout of vaccines in early 2021, key events in the pandemic and the country’s response have been covered. In recent months however, COVID-related news has been secondary info despite continuing reports of high new cases, perhaps because of that. But as vaccination efforts continue and some areas report lowered spread, it has been deemed that the pandemic risk has decreased.

CNN Philippines reports that the Department of Health has considered the Philippines, as a whole, to be “low-risk” of COVID-19. An official statement of the DOH this Monday, October 25, declared the downgrading of the national pandemic situation from its previous “moderate” status. This was due to the fact that no region of the country now has the concerning “high-risk” designation, with only specific regions like Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Zamboanga Peninsula, the Cordillera Region and Metro Manila still having “moderate” risk within their areas. Everywhere else now has “low risk.”

Despite this bit of optimistic news, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire is still shining the spotlight on a still-high utilization rate of intensive-care units (ICU) in hospitals nationwide, particularly in some of the high-risk areas named above. The Cagayan Valley for instance has 88% of its ICUs in active use. Zamboanga and Bicol Regions follow suit at 71% utilization for both. Similar moderate to critical-risk utilization percentages were reported in the CAR, Ilocos and MIMAROPA. Add to that the latest count of 4,405 new COVID cases and 149 related deaths as of this Monday, and one realizes that the good news of low-risk comes with a stern warning for caution.

Not everything is bad however. While many Filipinos remain unvaccinated against COVID, including an estimated 3 million seniors, some areas and communities have made good progress. For instance, Las Piñas in Metro Manila has 99.6% of its resident population with their first vaccine dose, and 90.6% with a second, completed dose. In other words, they now have herd immunity. In fact, Health Secretary Francisco Duque is confident with the country’s vaccine quantity to approve a recommendation for applying additional booster shots against the pandemic. While guidelines have been laid out, no provision has been made on booster vaccine dose rollout.

Image courtesy of SUNSTAR