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The Latest COVID-19 Updates From The Philippines And Around The World

After 16 months Of lockdown, 184 million confirmed cases, and 3.22 billion vaccine doses administered, this is where we're at in the pandemic

Sixteen months into lockdown, and different parts of the world are progressing at varying speeds towards their return to pre-COVID life.


For example, the United States held Fourth of July celebrations en masse in several cities across the country (read: packed concert venues and no social distancing in beaches), China is leading the vaccination tally with over one billion of its population fully inoculated, Iceland has lifted its travel ban for foreigners and the UK is looking forward to a COVID restriction-free summer (sports venues are preparing for an influx of fans), while the Philippines continues to experiment with how to encourage more Filipinos to line up for their free jabs.


While it's not a race to the finish line—the slogan "we're in this together" was spread all across social media at the height of 2020's pandemic fatigue as a reminder to all of humanity that all of us must help each other during this time in order to survive the pandemic—recent developments have certainly highlighted what some countries and their governments are doing right and what others can learn from them. 


Below, we give you a roundup of the latest COVID update from around the world and from home. 

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COVID in numbers 

As of July 2021, the following statistics have been recorded: 


There have been 184 million positive COVID cases worldwide, and the Philippines accounts for a little less than 1.5 million of those cases. The mortality and recovery rates have improved for most countries (with 1.36 million recoveries in the Philippines specifically), and better yet, the COVID-related hospital and ICU burden has lightened.

 

These hopeful numbers are, however, potentially a result of re-tightened COVID restrictions that followed a surge in positive cases over the 2020 holidays. Parts of the world enjoying summer from June to August must closely monitor their populations as they've once again begun to gather in crowds and enjoy public spaces; a next wave of COVID could follow (hopefully not, what with more people getting vaccinated) after another period of more relaxed health protocols. 


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Vaccination benefits 

Here's something that'll hopefully change anti-vaxxers' minds. Being fully vaccinated offers an array of benefits that make going back to the "old normal" a much quicker process for them as opposed to those who remain unvaccinated.


Just this week in the Philippines, Palace spokesperson Harry Roque announced that fully vaccinated individuals can finally travel around the country with a lot more ease (i.e.: no need for negative COVID test results, and just proof of completed vaccination). There are still some caveats, however, such as the need to procure a certificate of quarantine so domestic travel is still not a free for all situation. (Read the full set of revised domestic travel guidelines issued by the IATF here). 


With some luck, the Philippines can catch up with its neighbors whose vaccinated populations can already opt to not wear face masks in some public places (including Disneyland resorts and parks in California!) and enjoy big events the way they were meant to (e.g.: London's West End shows reopened in May and Broadway in New York resumes operations in the fall; music festivals are allowed in major cities in Spain; Japan is hurrying up its final set of regulations for athletes and spectators alike for the upcoming Olympics later this month).

  

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Achieving herd immunity among Filipinos 

There was some confusion over what herd immunity meant in the first few weeks it became a buzz term last year, but all you need to know is this: it means that enough members of the population have been vaccinated or been armed with a way to protect themselves a communicable disease in some way, and because a very large portion of the population have this defense in place, it makes the spread of illness much, much slower therefore protecting everyone (including those without the defense). If you want to see that in numbers, herd immunity means 65-70% of the population has been vaccinated against COVID.


For herd immunity to happen in the Philippines, a minimum of 58 million individuals need to be fully vaccinated. The ideal number is actually 70 million, a figure scheduled for accomplishment by December 22. It's likely that only when this target is reached will the Philippines begin to feel a true recovery from the pandemic. Till then, Filipinos will have to power through some 18 months or more of their current reality.


As of this writing, only 2.87 million Filipinos in the Philippines have been vaccinated, or just 2.7% of the population. For the 70 million mark to be reached, 3.89 Filipinos need to be fully vaccinated monthly starting July this year to December next year. (As of April this year, it looked like Israel was the first country in the world to get as close to achieving herd immunity as possible).


Fingers crossed that the administration's latest procurement of 40 million Pfizer vaccine doses encourages people to register for a vaccine and addresses the vaccine gap.


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Latest vaccination categories in the Philippines 

Every country has its own scheme for which members of the population are to be prioritized for vaccination. Over the last few weeks, the Philippine government has continued to revise its categories for prioritized individuals in order to inoculate more of the population and protect the most vulnerable.


Below is the current scheme to guide you, as detailed by the DOH:


Category A

A1.1 COVID-19 referral hospitals

A1.2 Hospitals catering to COVID-19 cases

A1.3 Quarantine/isolation facilities

A1.4 Remaining hospitals

A1.5 Government-owned community-based primary care facilities

A1.6 Remaining healthcare facilities (thru LGU)

A1.7 Closed healthcare institutions (such as nursing homes)

A2. Senior citizens

A3. Adults with comorbidities

A4. Frontline personnel in essential sectors both public and private, including uniformed personnel, and those working in sectors identified by the IATF that are directly client facing and cannot dutifully meet minimum public health standards

A5. Poor population based on National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR)


Category B

B1. Teachers, social workers

B2. Other government workers

B3. Other essential workers

B4. Socio-demographic groups at significantly higher risk other than senior citizens and poor population based on NHTS-PR

B5. Overseas Filipino Workers

B6. Other remaining workforce


Category C

Rest of the Filipino population not otherwise included in preceding groups


To simplify, category A includes senior citizens and those with diseases that put them at risk for COVID. (To find out if you have a comorbidity, a quick telephone call with your GP should give you the information you need. You can also request a certificate of comorbidity from them. You'll need it when you register for your vaccine). 


Category B includes house help, because they are considered economic front liners. 


Adult house mates of medical front liners are also now a prioritized group.


Registering for your free government-provided vaccination unfortunately does not have a uniform process across the country. For Metro Manila residents, you'll have to check with your respective LGUs. Some strictly require online registration, while others accept walk-ins. Check your city's social media platforms for the latest updates.


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The Delta mutation 

The word "mutation" has never been used in every day conversation more often than it has today. Hearing it spoken strikes fear in many hearts as it's usually made in reference to new COVID strains discovered and therefore, a whole new avenue of the unknown in effectively protecting ourselves from the disease.


Around April and May, India sounded the alarm because they discovered a totally new mutation of SARS-CoV-2—the Delta variant. Just a couple of months after the discovery, they fear that it's mutated again, giving the world a little something called Delta Plus. (Also, Delta Plus is further divided into two separate kinds, at least).


Now it's still a little unclear how Delta Plus differs from the original Delta strain, but what scientists have reported is that the Delta strain (and possibly its variants) may circumvent protection provided by vaccines. That is, only fully vaccinated people can be protected from it, and with lessened effectiveness from the vaccine.


"Existing vaccines still work against the original Delta variant but are less effective, especially among people who might not mount an effective immune response after vaccination, are older, or whose protection may wane faster," according to a National Geographic article. The work around for this is to still practice all health protocols despite being vaccinated. 


The Delta variant has traveled to North America and parts of Western Europe. In the Philippines, 19 cases have been detected. 


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Regional news

In Asia, the countries suffering the most from the pandemic are India and Myanmar.


India has the second highest number of total COVID cases in the world (30. 6 million), and cases are rising at an alarming rate on a daily basis as the Delta variant continues to wreak havoc on an overwhelmed healthcare system. Myanmar, on the other hand, is cut off from the world because of its ongoing military coup that has put pandemic concerns in the back burner and blocked international aid from reaching the country.


South Korea, Indonesia, and Malaysia have experienced outbreaks (Malaysia had to reimpose lockdown measures) anew. Singapore and Vietnam are still the Asian countries most capable of dealing with COVID concerns.


In the Philippines, though the situation is seemingly not as worrisome as it was in the beginning of the year, faces a different kind of challenge in its fight against COVID: the politicizing of medical response. 


The upcoming 2022 presidential elections have given rise to concerns about current and aspiring public officials using the pandemic as leverage to further their political agenda, potentially worsening the already less-than-spectacular COVID response at present.


Filipinos can only hope for the best for its government to put their interests first and the fact remains: the best strategy for staying safe from COVID is to take care of ourselves.


Opening images from Pexels and Unsplash