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Vaccination drive widened amid Omicron threat

Philippinestar — Michael Varcas

THE PHILIPPINES has extended its special three-day vaccination drive against the coronavirus after the government failed to reach its target due to logistical hurdles, according to an inter-agency task force, as the threat from a potentially more contagious Omicron variant looms.

In an advisory, the task force said local governments may extend the campaign to “sustain the momentum.” Local governments may extend the vaccination drive’s first run until Dec. 2.

There will also be a second run from Dec. 15 to 17, Health Undersecretary Myrna C. Cabotaje told a televised news briefing on Thursday.

The government vaccinated 7.6 million Filipinos during its three-day vaccination drive that ended on Wednesday, short of its nine-million goal. Still, this was two times the usual daily vaccinate rate, she said.

The Philippines is boosting its vaccination program amid the threat of the latest coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa.

The variant has yet to be detected in the Philippines, but health experts have said that it is only a matter of time before it enters the Southeast Asian country.

The Department of Health (DoH) logged 564 coronavirus infections on Thursday, bringing the total to 2.83 million.

The death toll hit 48,752 after 40 more patients died, while recoveries increased by 694 to 2.77 million, it said in a bulletin.

There were 15,188 active cases, 715 of which did not show symptoms, 7,126 were mild, 3,817 were moderate, 2,463 were severe and 1,067 were critical.

Six duplicates were removed from the tally, five of which were reclassified as recoveries, while 32 recoveries were relisted as deaths, the agency said. It added that 123 patients were found to be negative and have been removed from the tally.

Two laboratories did not operate on Nov. 30, while three laboratories failed to submit data.

DoH said 27% of intensive care units in the Philippines were occupied, while the rate for Metro Manila was 27%.

The Philippines has suspended inbound flights from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy over the Omicron variant, which has a large number of mutations. It also suspended a plan to admit fully vaccinated foreign travelers from Dec. 1-15.

The Philippines might include more countries in its so-called red travel list, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told CNN Philippines.

“We are going to propose additional countries based on the detection of this Omicron variant but as I said, we will need to balance it with the case trends,” she added.

The Quarantine bureau was monitoring 64 travelers who recently arrived in the country before the government banned flights from the countries they came from.

Ms. Vergeire said the Philippine Genome Center was still processing the latest batch of samples for sequencing. The results may be out by Dec. 3.

More than 2.71 million Filipinos were vaccinated on Monday, followed by 2.46 million on Tuesday and 2.45 million on Wednesday under the National COVID-19 Vaccination Days program, Ms. Cabotaje said.

The top performing regions during the National Vaccination Days were Calabarzon, Central Luzon and Central Visayas, she said.

The regions that exceeded their targets were Ilocos, Metro Manila, the Cordillera Administrative Region, Mimaropa and Cagayan Valley.

Meanwhile, fully vaccinated Filipino adults may receive their booster shots against the coronavirus as early as Friday, the Department of Health said.

In a statement, the agency said the booster shots would cover all Filipinos aged 18 and above. “All fully vaccinated adults are eligible to receive COVID-19 booster shots starting tomorrow, Dec. 3.”

They may get injected with vaccine brands from Sinovac Biotech Ltd., AstraZeneca Plc, Moderna Inc. and Pfizer, Inc. regardless of which vaccines were taken for the first two doses, it said.

Also on Thursday, the Education department said 177 more public schools, including 28 from the capital region would join the pilot enforcement of physical classes.

Last month, 100 public and 18 private schools resumed face-to-face classes as part of the dry run after almost two years of online classes amid a coronavirus pandemic.

The schools in Metro Manila will start their classes on Dec. 6, while most schools from the other regions began theirs this week, Education Director June Arvin Gudoy told ABS-CBN News.

The pilot run is the first in the government’s three-phased plan to resume face-to-face classes in basic education. The second phase, which will allow more schools to participate, will start next year. The pilot limits physical classes to kindergarten to Grade 3 and senior high school. — Norman P. Aquino and K.A.T. Atienza

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