The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday expressed concern over the increasing number of COVID-19 deaths worldwide.
WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said more than 170,000 people died from COVID-19 in the past eight weeks, and said the actual number could be much higher.
“I remain very concerned by the situation in many countries and the rising number of deaths,” he said. “While we are clearly in better shape than three years ago when this pandemic first hit, the global collective response is once again under strain.”
Ghebreyesus said “too few people – especially older people and health workers – are adequately vaccinated.”
Surveillance and genetic systems have also declined drastically, which poses a challenge in terms of tracking the virus and detecting new variants.
“Fragile health systems are struggling to cope with the burden of COVID-19, on top of caring for patients with other diseases including flu and RSV,” he said.
The WHO also said that misinformation and “pseudo-science” continue to spread, affecting public trust in safe and effective tools that can be used against the disease.
“My message is clear – do not underestimate this virus. It has and will continue to surprise us and it will continue to kill, unless we do more to get health tools to people that need them and to comprehensively tackle misinformation,” Ghebreyesus said.
Despite the WHO warning, the Department of Health (DOH) welcomed a recent report showing that COVID-19 had a “significant” drop among the top causes of death among Filipinos in 2022.
The Philippine Statistics Office (PSA) said COVID-19 was in the 11th spot of the leading causes of death in the Philippines, with lifestyle-related diseases such as heart disease, cerebrovascular diseases, and diabetes topped the list.
During the height of the pandemic in 2021, COVID-19 was in third spot, said DOH officer-in-charge Ma. Rosario Vergeire.
She said this was an indicator that the country’s health care system managed to prevent further deaths from the coronavirus.
Increased immunity has kept the country’s health care utilization rates low and deaths due to the COVID-19 manageable, Vergeire said.
Vergeire said all five top causes of death in the Philippines were non-communicable diseases, a trend that was observable before the onset of the pandemic.
Because of this, Vergeire said the DOH is now strengthening its programs promoting healthy behaviors and lifestyles.
Meanwhile, the DOH said the Office of the President (OP) has not given any response to its proposal to extend the state of calamity in the Philippines due to COVID-19.
Earlier, Vergeire said President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was hesitant to prolong the state of calamity, which ended on Dec. 31, 2022.
“No categorical and no official response to this request for the extension of the state of calamity. But indirectly, the President already has verbalized in one of his media outings that he is very hesitant to extend the state of calamity,” Vergeire said during a press briefing.
Before the year 2022 ended, Vergeire said the DOH submitted a memorandum to the OP, recommending a further extension of the state of calamity in the country.
On Dec. 23, the DOH and other government agencies met to discuss the implications and options that the government can take if the state of calamity is not extended, she said.
But in December, Marcos said he was not keen to prolong the state of calamity, adding that it was the “wrong mindset” with which to welcome the New Year.
The DOH has therefore begun exploring alternatives to continue the COVID-19 response even without the state of calamity.
Vergeire said the government can still continue with its vaccination program because vaccines with emergency use authorization (EUA) are granted a one year validity after the ceasing of the state of calamity.
Vergeire said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) is set to meet on Feb. 1 to discuss the decoupling of the restrictions from the alert levels.
Last year, Malacañang said Marcos was seeking the reclassification of restrictions which would be more compatible with the current milder strains of the coronavirus.
The President also said the alert level could be adjusted or improved if more people receive COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.