LIFE-SAVING SHOT. Vaccination against the coronavirus is in full swing, with Health Sec. Francisco Duque III taking the lead in administering the life-saving shot.  The year 2021 is full of hope for a pandemic-weary nation like the Philippines when vaccines started to arrive and more Filipinos get protected against the coronavirus. (File photo)

MANILA – The Department of Health (DOH) described 2021 as the year of recovery from the prevailing pandemic, learning from lessons in 2020 when the country and the entire world were caught unprepared in dealing with the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

It is also the year Filipinos saw hope and an end to the pandemic with the arrival of life-saving shots in February -- a donation of Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine from the Chinese government.

The shots were immediately administered to medical front-liners in March, then to the most vulnerable population such as senior citizens and persons with comorbidities.

Not long after, more Filipinos become eligible to receive the shots and just this November, booster shots became available as more vaccines pour in.

During the first quarter of the year, the country was affected insignificantly by the previous year’s holiday festivities as its new daily cases averaged 1,700 only – just 400 cases higher than that of December 2021.

However, cases started to spike in the first week of March when the average daily reported infections reached over 3,000.

The government ramped up its response with the establishment of additional laboratories testing individuals for Covid-19, setting up of more quarantine facilities, among others.

The DOH was able to detect, isolate, treat and reintegrate more cases in the community after they have fully recovered from the disease.

While the country started to vaccinate in March and only trickles of vaccine doses arrive, the country was preparing itself against the entry of the Alpha variant – first found in the United Kingdom – and the Beta variant – originated from South Africa. It was just a matter of time before these two variants were detected. Because of Alpha and Beta, the new cases increased and peaked at 15,310 on April 2.

From May to July, the daily infections decreased to less than 10,000 with the strict implementation of minimum public health standards and lockdowns by the local government units.

When the more contagious Delta variant from India entered the country, the daily reported cases had an upward trend in August and September with a new peak logged on September 11 with 26,303 new and 185,706 active infections.

In the middle of December, the country started logging less than 300 new cases daily until it had its lowest single-day infection count this year at 168, not including the data from 24 laboratories that may have been affected by Typhoon Odette.

The DOH reported 2,961 new cases on the last day of 2021, 16 days after it has confirmed the presence of the highly contagious Omicron variant in the country.

To date, the total number of Omicron variant cases nationwide is four; Delta variant cases, 8,452; Alpha variant cases, 3,169; and Beta variant cases, 3,630.

In his report to President Rodrigo Duterte on December 28, DOH Secretary Francisco Duque emphasized to the public the importance of strict adherence to testing and quarantine protocols especially among travelers from abroad to prevent the further spread of the Omicron variant in the community.

Duque also urged testing laboratories to submit positive samples immediately for whole-genome sequencing as part of active biosurveillance.

“Para matukoy po natin kung mayroon na bang local transmission or local cases ng Omicron variant at lalong-lalo na sa mga lugar kung saan nakakakita na tayo nang pagtaas ng mga kaso (For us to detect a possible local transmission or local cases of the Omicron variant especially when rise in cases is observed),” he said.

He also urged all local government units to perform immediate active case-finding and third-generation contact tracing before referral to isolation or quarantine facilities.

National vaccination

As of December 28, more than 107 million vaccine doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered with at least 48.64 million individuals fully vaccinated since the government started with its national vaccination drive in March.

About 57.01 million individuals have received their first dose of Covid-19 jab shot while 1.61 million people got their booster shots.

Earlier, the government’s target is to have 54 million Filipinos fully vaccinated by the end of 2021 to prevent the increase of Covid-19 cases in the country.

Other medical assistance

While there is an increase in the daily cases reported in the last week of 2021, Duque said the national utilization rate of healthcare systems remains low risk.

“We have 17 percent for bed utilization rate, 18 percent for ICU beds, and 10 percent for mechanical ventilators,” he said.

To ensure enough healthcare systems capacity amid the Omicron variant threat, Duque assured the public that the department and the One Hospital Command Center would coordinate with hospitals for the provision of Covid-19 beds, mechanical ventilators, oxygen supply, and telemedicine.

“Kasama po ang mga antiviral drugs katulad po ng mga Paxlovid at saka ito pong Molnupiravir, ang Tocilizumab, ang Baricitinib, at ang Remdesivir at mga iba pang mga gamot para makapagsalba po ng mga buhay ng mga naapektuhan ng (Included are antiviral drugs like Paxlovid, Tocilizumab, Baricitinib, Remdesivir and other medicines that can save the lives of) severe to critical Covid cases,” he said. (PNA)