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Daily tally may hit record a year into pandemic

PHILIPPINE STAR/MICHAEL VARCAS

CORONAVIRUS infections in the Philippines could hit an all-time daily record of 8,000 by end-March if the government fails to contain the pandemic, according to researchers from the country’s premier university.

Cases could reach as many as 20,000 by mid-April, Fredegusto Guido P. David, a research fellow at the OCTA Research Group from the University of the Philippines, told ABS-CBN News Teleradyo on Sunday.

Infections in Manila, the capital and nearby cities could hit as many as 6,000 by the end of the month and 14,000 by mid-April, he added.

“We’re not trying to scare people,” Mr. David said in Filipino. “What we’re saying is that’s science. There is no fear-mongering in science.”

Mr. David said the group’s projections in the past had come true, adding that they have changed their projections on COVID-19 cases given the faster infection rate.

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It’s been a year since President Rodrigo R. Duterte locked down the entire Luzon island, suspending work, classes and public transportation to contain a coronavirus pandemic.

Metro Manila mayors on Thursday night approved a two-week curfew that would start on Mar. 15 to curb a fresh surge in coronavirus infections.

The curfew will run for seven hours starting at 10 p.m., Benjamin de Castro Abalos, Jr., who heads the Metro Manila Development Authority, said last week. Some cities have started enforcing the curfew.

He said local governments would also enforce more testing, contact-tracing, quarantine and coordinated lockdowns to contain the pandemic.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 4,899 COVID-19 infections on Sunday, bringing the total to 621,498. The death toll rose by 63 to 12,829, while recoveries increased by 13,371 to 560,512, it said in a bulletin.

There were 48,157 active cases, 1.6% of which were critical, 91.8% were mild, 4.2% did not show symptoms, 1.6% were severe and 0.8% were moderate.

DoH at the weekend confirmed the detection of a coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) variant first found in the country, which health authorities said had developed locally.

The agency also said a more contagious Brazillian variant — the P.1 — had been detected in a Filipino patient who came home from Brazil.

Mr. David said the fresh spike in coronavirus infections could overwhelm the country’s health system, adding that the economy would suffer if stricter lockdowns were revived.

The Philippines started its vaccination drive against the coronavirus on Mar. 1 using vaccines from Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and AstraZeneca Plc.

The Philippine government has been unable to vaccinate at least 250,000 Filipinos daily to meet its 50-million goal this year due to supply problems, Vivencio B. Dizon, the country’s deputy chief enforcer of anti-coronavirus efforts, said last week.

The government could hit the daily goal of 250,000 to 300,000 vaccinations once the bulk of the vaccines arrive, he added.

The government had only inoculated about 36,000 people as of Mar. 7 since it started its vaccination drive this month, presidential spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. said on Tuesday.

Vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. earlier said the main volume of vaccines bought from drug makers and secured under a global initiative for equal access would arrive by the third and fourth quarters.

Mr. Duterte has said Manila was having difficulty getting more vaccine supplies, citing problems in the global supply chain. Rich countries were being prioritized by drug makers, he said.

With a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of $9,471, the Philippines ranked 76th among the poorest countries last year.

But poorer nations such as Bangladesh, Cambodia and Cote d’Ivoire, with a GDP per capita of $5,028, $4,664 and $4,457, respectively, got their vaccines before the Philippines, according to the website Our World in Data.

The Chinese government earlier donated 600,000 doses of CoronaVac made by Sinovac.

The Philippines on Mar. 4 also took delivery of 487,200 vials of the vaccine developed by British drug maker AstraZeneca. Almost 40,000 more doses arrived on Mar. 7. The vaccines came under a global initiative for equal access.

A million more doses of CoronaVac are expected to arrive this month under a P700-million purchase deal with Sinovac.

Manila will take delivery of about 117,000 vials of the vaccine developed by Pfizer, Inc. under COVAX by April, Mr. Dizon said.

The first batch of Pfizer doses was due to arrive in February but was delayed after the government failed to submit documents freeing the drug maker from potential lawsuits.

Mr. Dizon said the government seeks to vaccinate about 3.5 million health workers by May. — Norman P. Aquino and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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