Experts and government advisers are now looking into the possibility of deescalating the country to pandemic “Alert Level 0,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Thursday.
Duque said Metro Manila and 38 other areas that have shifted to Alert Level 1 this month are doing “so far so good” as businesses return to full capacity.
Duque noted the country has logged fewer than 1,000 COVID-19 cases daily for the last six days, and authorities hope this figure will go down to around 500.
“We don’t know, maybe we can deescalate to Alert Level 0. But this will still be discussed by the IATF,” he said, referring to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
“This is still being studied by our expert panel, the technical advisory group, and they will give recommendations in the following days,,” Duque said in Filipino.
Duque said the IATF is also looking into whether other parts of the country can go down to Alert Level 1.
Alert 1 requires an area to be classified as low to minimal risk for virus cases, and utilize less than 50 percent of its healthcare capacity, said Duque.
Areas must also have a 70-percent vaccination rate, with 80 percent of their elderly population fully inoculated, Duque said.
The Philippines has so far fully immunized 63.99 million people, while 62.7 million have received an initial dose and 10.7 million have received their booster shots as of Wednesday.
The Department of Tourism, meanwhile, said the government hopes to be able to welcome all foreign visitors next month.
The country has recorded 73,178 tourist arrivals since it reopened to 157 visa-free countries last month, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat told ANC’s Headstart.
Also on Thursday, Duque said the country is planning to donate some COVID-19 vaccine doses to Myanmar, Cambodia, and some African countries, as the country’s current supply is stable.
In a briefing, Duque said the country’s vaccine stockpile has continuously increased since October 2021, and with some doses nearing expiration, the government decided to give away supplies to countries with low vaccination coverage.
“Donating near-expiry vaccine doses we won’t be able to use is a good goal as we can help other countries where COVID-19 is still thriving, but vaccines are in short supply,” said Duque.
Duque said that AstraZeneca has extended to three months the shelf life of its near-expiry vaccine doses, but are subject to the approval of the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“It’s good news that the shelf life of vaccines that are about to expire has been extended. AstraZeneca agreed to this but we are just waiting for the FDA to approve the extension by three months,” he said.
At least 1.8 million more Filipinos are targeted to receive the anti-COVID primary and booster doses during the three-day Bayanihan, Bakunahan 4 that kicked off on Thursday.
Several doctors have offered their clinics to be used as vaccination sites in the fourth “Bayanihan, Bakunahan” drive against COVID-19, the head of the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) said on Thursday.
PMA president Dr. Benito Atienza, said the doctors must coordinate with them and the Department of Health (DOH) first in accordance with existing protocols.
“We have many doctors who are willing to make their clinics as vaccination sites. We are already listing doctors who will join the vaccination drive,” Atienza said.
Atienza said clinics are only accommodating those 18 years old and above as COVID-19 vaccination for those aged 5 to 17 are usually conducted in hospitals since these have facilities for storing formulated vaccines.
Duque earlier noted that about 71 percent of the country’s target population of 90 million are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Duque did not give details on whether the near expiry vaccines were procured or donated to the Philippines.
The country has so far procured 16.5 million AstraZeneca jabs. It has received 6.8 million donated shots of the same vaccine brand, while 15.5 million doses have arrived through global initiative COVAX Facility as of Wednesday.
The relatively short shelf life of AstraZeneca’s vaccine is complicating the rollout to the world’s poorest nations, according to officials and internal World Health Organization documents reviewed by Reuters last month.
Its shelf life of just six months from the date of bottling is the shortest among top suppliers to the COVAX global vaccine sharing scheme, several COVAX and EU officials said.
Poorer nations rejected more than 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by COVAX in December, mainly because of a rapidly approaching expiry date, a UNICEF official said.
Nearly 3 million doses of vaccines were also thrown out by African nations, officials said, leading them to call for a longer shelf life for the shots donated.