PBBM drops calamity state but orders DOH to pay frontliners’ allowance
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will no longer extend the state of calamity that expired Dec. 31, 2022, signaling that the government believes the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is over, the Palace confirmed Wednesday.
The President also ordered the Department of Health (DOH) to ensure that health workers continue to receive their COVID-related allowances even though the state of calamity has expired.
“That (the allowances) will continue. I used to be concerned that the compensation for our health workers would not continue…We carefully studied their allowances and even if the state of calamity is not extended, their benefits will not be affected,” the President said.
Although there was no formal announcement, Presidential Communications Office Secretary Cheloy Garafil said “yes” when asked if Mr. Marcos’ decision not to extend the state of calamity was final.
This was also confirmed by DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire.
“Yes, the state of calamity will no longer be extended,” she told Manila Standard.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on Wednesday threw his support behind the President’s decision, saying it would greatly boost the country’s image, especially to foreign tourists.
“I support the President’s non-extension of the COVID-19 state of calamity because it would really [cast]… a bad light on the Philippines [if it were extended]. And… as we know, it’s almost back to normal,” Zubiri said in an interview Wednesday.
He said foreign tourists would be very hesitant to visit the country if they see online that there is a prevailing state of calamity in the country due to the pandemic, and assume that the government could not control the spread of cases.
“The point is the President does not want to tarnish the image of the country by extending the state of calamity. He wants it rectified by legislation,” he said.
The DOH earlier requested President Marcos to extend the state of calamity after the proposed bill for the creation of Philippine Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) was not enacted on time.
Zubiri said the Senate was now focusing on the passage of that bill, and incorporating the DOH requests for special powers, particularly those related to the vaccination program.
Zubiri said they are also working on the swift approval of the bills creating the Medical Reserve Corps and the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines.
The Senate President said Congress has also approved an additional P25 billion in COVID response fund that will be used to cover the allowances for health frontliners, logistics and other logistical needs of the DOH.
Proclamation No. 929, signed by former President Rodrigo Duterte, declared a state of calamity across the country in March 2020, when COVID-19 began to spread in the country.
The state of calamity was supposed to last for six months but was extended for a year up to Sept. 12, 2021, via Proclamation No. 1021, and was extended for a second time through Proclamation No. 1218.
Mr. Marcos on Wednesday also assured the public that the country has a sufficient supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses.
“The vaccines aren’t as necessary as they were in 2021 when we were scrambling to get them because the risk is lower now so we should adjust based on the scientific assessment of the COVID-19 situation,” he added in Filipino.
He also welcomed the continued decline in cases.
Data from the DOH showed that a total of 1,206 new COVID-19 cases were recorded during the week of Jan. 23-29.
The average number of new cases per day during the period stood at 172, reflecting a 36 percent decline from the cases logged on Jan. 16-22.
The DOH has so far vaccinated 73 million individuals, or 94.54 percent of the target population, while 21 million individuals have received their booster shots.
A total of 6.9 million senior citizens, or 79.47 percent of the target A2 population, have received the primary series of COVID-19 vaccines, while 2.76 million senior citizens had their booster shots.
The Philippines has found 613 new cases of Omicron COVID-19 subvariants.
Based on the DOH’s latest report, 252 were classified as BA.2.3.20, 201 as XBB, 25 as BA.5, 15 as XBC, 2 as BA.2.75, and 118 as other Omicron sublineages.
Of the BA.5 cases, 18 were classified as BQ.1, the DOH said.
Results of the samples, which were processed by the University of the Philippines-Philippine Genome Center, were released on Jan. 28.
The DOH said that all additional BA.2.3.20 and XBB cases were local cases from all regions except Regions 8, 10, and 11.
To date, the BA.5 is still the dominant strain in the Philippines, with 12,687 cases, Vergeire told ANC’s “Headstart” on Tuesday.
It is followed by BA.2.3.20 with 34,173 cases, XBB with 1,170 cases, XBC with 626 cases, and BA.4 with 325 cases.
The total tally also showed 42 BA.2.75 cases, 38 BQ.1 cases, seven BF.7 cases and seven BN.1 cases.
“Right now what we are trying to be cautious about would be the XBB1.5, which is circulating in the US… and other countries,” Vergeire said.
Despite the presence of more transmissible subvariants, closing borders is no longer an option in the country’s COVID-19 response, she added.
Three years to the day after the World Health Organization (WHO) sounded the highest level of global alert over COVID-19, it said on Monday the pandemic remained an international emergency.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reached that conclusion following the recommendations of the United Nations health agency’s emergency committee, which on Friday held its 14th meeting since the start of the crisis.
The WHO first declared a so-called public health emergency of international concern—its highest possible level of global alert—on Jan. 30, 2020, over what was then called the novel coronavirus.
When it sounded the alarm, fewer than 100 cases and no deaths had been detected outside China.
Since then, more than 752 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported to the WHO, including more than 6.8 million deaths, though the true numbers are thought to be far higher.