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Sinovac arriving today, Astra vaccine tomorrow

MJ Blancaflor



AstraZeneca’s vaccine, sourced from the Covax facility, will arrive at 12:50 p.m.

“Now there will be choices for our frontliners,” The Philippines expects to receive around 44 million vaccine doses through the Covax facility, of which 5.5 million to 9.2 million shots will come from AstraZeneca.

The Philippines will receive 525,600 doses of coronavirus vaccine from British-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca on Monday, 1 March, a day after the shipment of the first batch of shots from China’s Sinovac.

Presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque announced Saturday that AstraZeneca’s vaccine, sourced from the Covax facility, will arrive at 12:50 p.m.

President Rodrigo Duterte will be present at the arrival rites of AstraZeneca’s vaccine at the Villamor Airbase, said his former top aide Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go.

“Now there will be choices for our frontliners,” Go said.

The Philippines expects to receive around 44 million vaccine doses through the Covax facility, of which 5.5 million to 9.2 million shots will come from AstraZeneca. The vaccine doses will be used to inoculate 20 percent of the Philippine population, Roque added.

The Covax facility is a global initiative that aims to ensure that developing countries get access to the drug.

Roque expressed gratitude to Covax, as well as medical workers who are at the forefront of the country’s pandemic response.

“We thank the World Health Organization, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the United Nations Children’s Fund towards this end,” he said.

“We are grateful to everyone — from our medical frontliners to our fellow Filipinos and foreign partners — who stand by us in this challenging time,” Roque added.

AstraZeneca’s shot is found to be 70 percent effective on average and only need to be stored at standard fridge temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius.

Its arrival will come a day after 600,000 doses of CoronaVac, the vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac, lands on Philippine shores.

The Food and Drug Administration has authorized both vaccines for emergency use.

CoronaVac, however, was not recommended by the FDA to be given to health care workers who are constantly exposed to Covid-19 patients, after it merely reported 50.4 percent efficacy rate among medical workers in Brazil.


No more testing, quarantine

Local tourists are no longer required to undergo coronavirus testing and quarantine after the government’s coronavirus task force approved a “uniformed set” of travel protocols, Malacañang announced Saturday.

Presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque said domestic travelers will only need to under swab testing for Covid-19 if local government units of their destination will ask them to, and they may opt to skip the 14-day quarantine unless they exhibit symptoms upon arrival.

A travel authority and health certificates from the Joint Task Force Covid-19 Shield are also not required, he added.

The easing of travel protocols came amid government efforts to boost domestic tourism to generate more jobs and spur economic growth, thus resuscitating the pandemic-battered economy.

It also came ahead of the Holy Week in April, when families usually visit their home provinces or go out of town for vacation.

Despite the new rules, Roque said authorities should continue to “strictly implement” the minimum public health standards, such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and wearing of masks and face shields across all settings.

The official also announced that all ports and terminals should have a referral system where symptomatic travelers will be transferred to quarantine or isolation facilities.

“Clinical and exposure assessment shall be strictly implemented in all ports of entry and exit while health assessment of passengers, supervised by medical doctors, shall be mandatory upon entry in the port or terminal and exit at point of destination,” Roque said.

Buses in Metro Manila bound for the provinces, on the other hand, are required to use the Integrated Terminal Exchange as the central hub for transportation.


Variants blamed for spike

In a related development, the Department of Health and a group monitoring pandemic figures said the rising number of coronavirus infections in Metro Manila could be attributed to the possible spread of new Covid-19 variants and more relaxed quarantine rules.

The Health department reported 2,921 coronavirus infections — the highest single-day increase since October 16 last year — raising the nationwide tally to 574,247.

This is the third straight day that new cases exceeded 2,000-mark, and the latest figure even excluded data from six laboratories which failed to submit results on time.

In a televised briefing, OCTA research fellow Guido David said the rate of infection in the capital region is faster than the rates reported in Cebu and Mountain Province, which have seen cases of the more contagious United Kingdom variant.

“There’s also a possibility that the UK variant, or some other variants like the one from South Africa and other emerging US variants, are already spreading. Why? The rate of spread is too fast,” he said.

However, David clarified that it is merely speculation of the OCTA group which is composed of statisticians and analysts tracking the government’s Covid-19 data, noting that the matter may be confirmed through genome sequencing or the method used to determine a virus’ genetic material.

Following current trends, Metro Manila might record 2,500 daily cases by the end of March, said David, which he described as “concerning.”


One-stop shop

Meanwhile, the Department of Science and Technology’s Safe, Swift, and Smart Passage (S-PaSS) Travel Management System will be institutionalized as a “one-stop-shop application” for travelers, Roque said.

The System will be utilized as the primary contact tracing system nationwide, and other apps must be integrated into it, said Roque.

The new protocols were crafted by the Department of the Interior and Local Government and approved by members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases during their recent meeting, he said.

The Department of Tourism has long been calling for a “uniform” set of protocols to make travel accessible for potential tourists and to revive the industry, which is among the major sectors that suffered badly from government-imposed lockdowns due to the health crisis.

The OCTA Research Team, a group of statisticians and analysts tracking pandemic figures, cautioned that the easing of travel protocols might lead to coronavirus transmission among tourist destinations.

Dr. Guido David, a member of OCTA who also teaches at the University of the Philippines Institute of Mathematics, tagged the new protocols as “concerning,” adding that the government should strengthen its border controls to control the spread of Covid-19.

“That is a bit concerning because some areas are doing well, but some areas are not doing well in terms of managing Covid-19 cases,” Guido said in a news conference.

“We are seeing an increase in cases because we are not strict in terms of border control. I hope they evaluate the new measures, but let’s just be strict in controls so we won’t spread the virus in the entire country,” he added.

About P190 billion in revenue was lost from the tourism industry from March to July last year at the height of strict quarantine measures, while some five million workers have either lost their jobs or suffered from salary cuts.

The government has yet to determine the exact tourism industry loss in 2020.

In 2019, tourism raked in 12.7 percent of the Philippines’ gross domestic product as the country recorded 8.26 million international tourist arrivals and 110 million domestic tourist arrivals. (With Michelle Guillang)