COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines
|COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines|
|First outbreak||Wuhan, Hubei, China|
|Arrival date||January 30, 2020[b]|
(1 year, 2 months, 2 weeks and 5 days)
The COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines is part of the worldwide pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The first case in the Philippines was identified on January 30, 2020 and involved a 38-year-old Chinese woman who was confined at San Lazaro Hospital in Metro Manila.[b] On February 1, a posthumous test result from a 44-year-old Chinese man turned out positive for the virus, making the Philippines the first country outside China to record a confirmed death from the disease.
After over a month without recording any cases, the Philippines confirmed its first local transmission on March 7, 2020. Since then, the virus has spread with at least one case being recorded in the country's 81 provinces. Socio-economic status has been associated with the prevalence of COVID-19 cases across the country. Lockdowns, or community quarantines, have been imposed throughout the country since March 15, 2020 as a measure to limit the spread of the virus. The largest of these measures was the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon.
As of April 18, 2021[update], the Philippines has reported 936,133 cases of the disease. Out of these cases, 779,084 recoveries and 15,960 deaths have been recorded. It has the 2nd highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia (after Indonesia), and ranks 7th in Asia, and 27th in the world. The largest single-day increase in the number of confirmed cases was reported on April 2, 2021, when the Department of Health (DOH) announced 15,310 new cases.
The Philippines had a slightly lower testing capacity than its neighbors in Southeast Asia during the first months of the pandemic in the country. COVID-19 tests had to be taken outside the country due to the lack of testing kits. This also has led to a controversy that involved several government officials who were reported to have undergone COVID-19 tests without qualifying to the DOH's triage algorithm. By the end of January 2020, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila began its testing operations and became the country's first subnational laboratory. Several laboratories have been accredited by the DOH since then. As of April 17, the country has 244 subnational laboratories capable of detecting the SARS-CoV-2 virus and has conducted a total of 11,153,268 tests from more than 10,480,825 unique individuals.
January to February 2020
The Philippines reported its first suspected case of COVID-19 in January 2020. It involved a 5-year-old boy in Cebu, who arrived in the country on January 12 with his mother. At that time, the Philippines had no capability to conduct COVID-19 tests. The boy tested positive for "non-specific pancoronavirus assay" in the RITM. Samples from the boy were also sent to the Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia to determine the specific coronavirus strain. The boy tested negative for COVID-19 but several suspected cases were already reported in various parts of the country.
The first case of COVID-19 in the Philippines was confirmed on the same day. The diagnosed patient was a 38-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan, who had arrived in Manila from Hong Kong on January 21. She was admitted to the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila on January 25 after she sought a consultation due to a mild cough. At the time of the confirmation announcement, the Chinese woman was already asymptomatic.
The second case was confirmed on February 2, a 44-year-old Chinese male who was the companion of the first case. His death on February 1 was the first recorded outside China. He suffered from coinfection with influenza and Streptococcus pneumoniae.
On February 5, the DOH confirmed a third case in a 60-year-old Chinese woman who flew into Cebu City from Hong Kong on January 20 before she traveled to Bohol where she consulted a doctor at a private hospital on January 22, due to fever and rhinitis. Samples taken from the patient on January 24 returned a negative result, but the DOH was notified on February 3 that samples taken from the patient on January 23 tested positive for the virus. The patient upon recovery on January 31 was allowed to go home to China.
After a month of reporting no new cases, on March 6, the DOH announced two cases consisting of two Filipinos. One is a 48-year-old man with a travel history to Japan, returning on February 25 and reported symptoms on March 3. The other is a 60-year-old man with a history of hypertension and diabetes who experienced symptoms on February 25 and was admitted to a hospital on March 1 when he experienced pneumonia. He had last visited a Muslim prayer hall in San Juan. The DOH confirmed that the fifth case had no travel history outside the Philippines and is, therefore, the first case of local transmission. A sixth case was later confirmed, that of a 59-year-old woman who is the wife of the fifth case. Since then, the Department of Health recorded a continuous increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
Cases abroad involving foreigners with travel history in the Philippines were reported in early March 2020. The first three recorded cases involving an Australian, a Japanese, and a Taiwanese national had a history of visiting the Philippines in February 2020. Though it was unconfirmed whether or not they had contracted the virus while in the Philippines, speculations arose on undetected local transmissions in the country due to prior confirmation of the Philippines' first case of local transmission.
Retrospective studies have been made to determine the strain of virus responsible for causing the community outbreak of COVID-19 in the Philippines since March 2020. In May 2020, Edsel Salvaña, director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology and member of the IATF-EID, said that the strain responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak in the country that started in March 2020 is closely related to the strain affecting India at the time. The virus strain's family tree is said by Salvaña to have appeared in China and Australia. In a July 2020 webinar led by Cynthia Saloma, Executive Director of the UP Philippine Genome Center two hypotheses was presented regarding the source of the March 2020 outbreak in the Philippines. Genetic sequence analysis of samples collected from Philippine General Hospital patients from March 22–28 suggest that there are at least two sources of viral transmission in the Philippines; China, mainly from Shanghai and from Japan specifically through repatriated Filipino seafarers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Several measures were imposed to mitigate the spread of the disease in the country, including bans on travel to mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and South Korea. On March 7, 2020, the Department of Health (DOH) raised its "Code Red Sub-Level 1," with a recommendation to the President of the Philippines to impose a "public health emergency" authorizing the DOH to mobilize resources for the procurement of safety gear and the imposition of preventive quarantine measures. On March 9, President Rodrigo Duterte issued Proclamation No. 922, declaring the country under a state of public health emergency.
On March 12, President Duterte declared "Code Red Sub-Level 2," issuing a partial lockdown on Metro Manila to prevent a nationwide spread of COVID-19. The lockdowns were expanded on March 16, placing the entirety of Luzon under an "enhanced community quarantine" (ECQ). Other local governments outside Luzon followed in implementing similar lockdowns. On March 17, President Duterte issued Proclamation No. 929, declaring the Philippines under a state of calamity for a tentative period of six months.
Additional facilities started to conduct confirmatory testing. On March 20, four facilities, namely the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City, Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center in Benguet, and the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila (where the first case was admitted to), began conducting tests as well augmenting the RITM. Other facilities began operations as well in the following days.
April to May 2020
By April, COVID-19 had spread to all 17 regions of the Philippines, with the confirmation of a case in April 6 of a patient confined at a hospital in Surigao City who had been in the Caraga region since March 12 after traveling from Manila.
President Duterte on April 7 accepted the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to extend the ECQ in Luzon until April 30.
On April 17, it was reported that the country had been able to bring down the viral disease' reproduction number to 0.65 from 1.5, which meant that the average number of people a person could infect decreased from more than one to less than one. Recent data at the time suggested that the country was doing better in "flattening the curve", but was warned of a "resurgence" and must ramp up mass testing in order to isolate cases and avoid further transmission of COVID-19.
Sometime in late April, local government units (LGUs) were no longer authorized to impose quarantine measures without the consent of the IATF-EID. Prior to that period, LGUs could impose such measures in coordination with the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
The ECQ in Luzon was extended until May 15 in some areas. This included Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Central Luzon (except Aurora), Pangasinan, and Benguet. ECQ measures were also extended in the provinces of Iloilo and Cebu as well as in Davao City. Other areas were downgraded or placed under general community quarantine (GCQ).
On May 14, Typhoon Vongfong (local name: Ambo) landed on Samar Island. In the Philippines, tens of thousands of people who were locked out due to lockdowns were faced with the dual threat of typhoons and viruses, forcing complex and dangerous evacuation. At each shelter in the central part of the Philippines, in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus infection, only half of the capacity was accepted, and a mask was required when evacuating. Typhoon Vongfong killed five people in the Philippines. By the time Vongfong landed, the number of confirmed infections was 11,618 and the number of deaths (due to infectious diseases) was 772 in the Philippines. Vongfong also approached Manila, but due to severe restrictions on going out of Manila, most people, including low-income people living in simple houses, could not go to shelters and were forced to wait at home.
After May 15, the Philippine government revised its quarantine classifications in correspondence to an earlier announcement that "Science and Economics will be considered for any changes of the lockdown measures." A modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) was applied to Metro Manila, Laguna and Cebu City, while a GCQ was raised to 41 provinces and 10 cities with moderate risk. Meanwhile, 40 provinces and 11 cities that were considered "low-risk areas" were supposed to be released from community quarantine measures, but were eventually upgraded to a "modified general community quarantine" (MGCQ) after a reportedly "honest mistake" from the national government and requests from respective LGUs.
Once again, the Philippine government revised its announcements and declared the entire country under GCQ, while Metro Manila, Laguna and Cebu City continued to implement an MECQ. This was temporary until guidelines of MGCQ for low-risk areas were finalized. The IATF-EID also reportedly considered the reclassification of provinces and cities in Central Luzon as "high-risk areas" under MECQ.
After receiving petitions from LGUs, the IATF-EID revised its quarantine policies yet again. Cebu City and Mandaue were placed under ECQ, while Metro Manila, Laguna, and Central Luzon (except for Aurora and Tarlac) were all under MECQ. The remaining parts of the country were placed under GCQ.
June to July 2020
Quarantine measures raised throughout the country started to loosen up on June 1, with areas formerly under ECQ transitioning to a less strict quarantine. This led to a significant rise in the number of confirmed cases, as more areas implemented a GCQ.
The official start of classes in the elementary and secondary schools which customarily begin on June was postponed.
The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act expired within this month. According to the national government, the law expired on June 25, due to its sunset provision although there were interpretations that the law expired as early as June 5. Senator Sonny Angara argued that per the Constitution "emergency powers cease upon the next adjournment of Congress" and that he considers the Bayanihan Act as an emergency measure. The national government maintains that the law was to expire on June 25. Upon expiration of the law, the national government is not anymore obliged to hand out cash subsidies to families affected by community quarantine measures.
The DOH reported an overwhelmingly high number of recoveries on July 30, as the department began its "Oplan Recovery" to clear out its discrepancies with LGU counts. Under the data reconciliation of the DOH, starting from July 15, mild cases and asymptomatic cases will be recorded as recovered after 14 days from swab collection for testing. The first set of "mass recovery" was recorded on July 30 with 37,180 recoveries. From July 30, recovery reconciliations will be reported every 15 days.
On August 2, the Philippines surpassed the 100,000 cases mark as the country continues to report around 2,000–3,000 cases a day. The country eventually had the most COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia when it finally breached Indonesia's total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
A modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) was placed in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal from August 4 to 18 as a response to the petition of medical front liners requesting an ECQ in Metro Manila.
In early August, the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) became involved in a corruption scandal, and its executives were alleged to have used the pandemic as a cover-up to steal billions of pesos.
The Philippine Genome Center (PGC) had detected a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus originating in the Philippines. The new variant is said to be globally dominant variant than other variants of the virus at the time of detection and has been associated with the sudden increase of new cases in July.
By August 18, the DOH has identified 1,302 COVID-19 clusters throughout the country with the majority being located in Metro Manila.
September to November 2020
On September 11, President Duterte signed Republic Act No. 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act into law. President Duterte then extended the period of the state of calamity until September 2021, through his Proclamation No. 1021 filed on September 18.
The IATF-EID also announced on September 18 that all cemeteries, columbariums, and memorial parks nationwide will be closed from October 29 to November 4 to prevent social gatherings traditionally conducted as part of the All Saints' Day observance. This is similar to the proposal made by Metro Manila mayors few days prior.
In mid-December, a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 known as Lineage B.1.1.7 was identified in the United Kingdom and is reportedly more contagious than earlier variants of the virus. This has led to several countries to restrict or ban travel from the United Kingdom, including the Philippines. The Philippines also banned travel from 19 other nations which has reported cases of more-infectious variants of SARS-CoV-2.
The DOH announced in a briefing held in January 2021 that the U.K. variant is already in the Philippines as early as December 2020. One of the samples collected by the health department on December 10 tested positive for the variant on January 21, 2021.
By January 2021, the DOH is already monitoring at least two other noted mutations aside from the U.K. variant, namely the 501.V2 variant which originated from South Africa and another variant from Malaysia.
On January 5, 2021, Hong Kong reported that they detected the U.K. variant from a 30-year-old woman who arrived in the city from the Philippines on December 22, 2020, raising concerns that the strain may already be in the Philippines. The following day, a joint DOH–PGC study said that it has not detected the U.K. variant among 305 samples collected from November to December hospital admissions involving inbound travellers who have tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in the country.
Epidemiologist John Wong, who is part of DOH's technical advisory working group, said in a press briefing on January 6 that if Lineage B.1.1.7 establishes itself in the Philippines, the total number of cases could rise about fifteen-fold. Wong provided two scenarios which assumed there are 20,000 cases at the beginning of the month. In the first scenario, COVID-19 has a r rate of 1.1 and the U.K. variant does not reach the Philippines which project an increase of cases to 32,000 by the end of the month. In the second scenario where Lineage B.1.1.7 does indeed establish itself in the country, the projected rise of cases could go as high as 300,000 in the same time period.
On January 13, the DOH announced that the U.K. variant has been detected in the country when a 29-year-old man from Quezon City, who arrived in the country from the United Arab Emirates on January 7, tested positive for COVID-19. 13 individuals who came in contact with the man also tested positive for COVID-19 days later. On January 22, 16 new cases associated with the U.K. variant has been confirmed in several places in country including Benguet, Laguna, and Mountain Province. A case each in Benguet and Laguna had no known contact with a confirmed case or a travel history outside the country.
On February 18, the DOH in Central Visayas announced that two mutations of SARS-CoV-2 were discovered in Cebu. The mutations were classified as "mutations under investigation" and were tagged as E484K and N501Y.
The DOH announced the detection of the South African variant of SARS-CoV-2 in Pasay on March 2. On March 12, Lineage P.1, commonly known as the Brazilian variant, was detected in the country, along with a "unique" variant originating from the Philippines which was designated as the P.3 variant, which in turn related to the aforementioned variant. Japan also detected the P.3 variant on a man who traveled from the Philippines.
As a response to the recent spike in cases, the Greater Manila Area, which the government called "NCR Plus", was placed under general community quarantine (GCQ) on March 22 and was originally set to expire on April 4. It was further intensified to the stricter enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from March 29 to April 11, when the positivity rate of the area remained high.
On April 2, the Philippines has logged 15,310 new cases, the highest number of daily cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
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Front line workers
As of April 9, 2021, there have been 16,408 healthcare workers that tested positive for COVID-19. 15,510 out of these cases have already recovered, while 84 have died. On the early months of the pandemic in the country, the number of healthcare workers infected by the virus was significantly higher compared to the infection rate of other health care workers in the Western Pacific Region.
By January 2021, the SARS-CoV-2 virus had infected more than 9,381 police officers from the Philippine National Police (PNP), 1,137 military personnel from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and 160 members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG).
Locally stranded individuals
Of the 1,063,759 returning overseas Filipinos (ROF) reported on April 9, 2021, 1,057,330 have tested negative for the disease and have been discharged from quarantine facilities, while 16,177 have tested positive.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) provides information regarding the number of Filipino nationals abroad to have contracted COVID-19. The DFA keeps an official tally of confirmed Filipino COVID-19 cases per region instead of by country. As of April 6, 2021 there have been 16,569 overseas Filipinos from 91 countries and territories that tested positive for COVID-19. This count is not included in the national tally of cases by the DOH.
The DOH previously used the designation "patients under investigation" (PUIs) and "persons under monitoring" (PUMs) to manage suspected and confirmed cases. PUIs involved individuals who had a travel history to Wuhan but by February 3, 2020, the DOH has expanded the scope of PUIs to include individuals who had a travel history to any part of China. "Persons under monitoring" are asymptomatic individuals with known history of exposure to another person with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection.
On April 11, 2020, the DOH revised its terminology for PUIs; "suspect" and "probable" cases. Suspect cases involve individuals exhibiting flu-like symptoms and have a history of travel to areas with reported local transmission within 14 days before the manifestation of their symptoms. Someone with fever, cough, or shortness of breath who is above 60 years old, pregnant, with other underlying illness, or a health worker could also be considered as a suspect case. Patients admitted to a hospital due to severe symptoms caused by an undetermined lung disease could also be tagged as a suspect case. Probable cases involve persons who underwent testing with results that need further validation, and those who were tested but whose test was not facilitated in an official laboratory for a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction test.
The usage of the PUM designation has since been discontinued. It was reasoned that it is assumed that the general public has been exposed to COVID-19 due to local or community transmission already ongoing in several parts of the Philippines.
By July 14, 2020, there had been 38,909 suspected cases (958 probable and 37,951 suspect) in the country.
Hospital admission policy
The DOH has issued a reminder, that Level 2 and 3 hospitals cannot deny admittance of people suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 infection and refusal of admission is a "violation of the signed Performance Commitment and shall be dealt with by the PhilHealth accordingly". The department said that Level 2 and 3 hospitals can accommodate individuals with mild COVID-19 symptoms while individuals in a serious or critical condition may be transferred to one of the DOH's three main referral hospitals, which was increased over time to 75 designated hospitals as of April 13 with a combined bed capacity of 3,194.
On March 16, the DOH announced a revision on their protocol on hospital admission for COVID-19 positive patients. A week prior, the DOH has began sending both asymptomatic patients and individuals with mild symptoms back on their homes for quarantine and continued health monitoring until they have been deemed recovered. Priority are given to high-risk patients or those with severe symptoms for hospital admission.
Drug therapy and vaccine development
Vaccine trial participation
The Philippines, with at least 45 other countries, has joined the World Health Organization (WHO)'s Solidarity trial to study the effectivity of certain drugs in treating COVID-19 patients. Dr. Marissa Alejandria of the Philippine Society of Microbiology and Infectious Disease is the Philippines' representative in the study with Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire as the official liaison of the DOH in the multinational study.
The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) announced that it is seeking bilateral collaboration with other countries such as China, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom on endeavors related to the vaccine development for COVID-19. President Rodrigo Duterte declared a bounty for anyone who could produce a vaccine against COVID-19, an amount later increased to ₱50 million (around $1 million).
Research on other treatments
The Philippine Council on Health Research and Development at the DOST plans to distribute an undisclosed "functional food," while Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque also revealed that the DOST, Philippine General Hospital, and the Ateneo de Manila University, are collaborating with the Duke–NUS Medical School in Singapore to evaluate the feasibility of lauric acid from virgin coconut oil, Vitex negundo (known locally as Lagundi), and Euphorbia hirta (known locally as Tawa-tawa) as a "dietary regimen supplement" to help COVID-19 patients combat the disease. A "functional food" or "dietary regimen supplement" is described as similar to how tawa-tawa is also used as a remedy against dengue by incorporating it to the diet of diagnosed patients.
The Philippine government has been negotiating with various foreign vaccine manufacturers to secure the country's COVID-19 vaccine supply. These manufacturers include Sinovac Biotech (China), Gamaleya Research Institute (Russia), Moderna (United States), and Pfizer (United States). The private sector, with government sanction, has secured at least 2.6 million vaccine doses from British-Swedish manufacturer AstraZeneca. Negotiations are also ongoing with American firm Novavax which would supply at least 30 million doses from the Serum Institute of India. The country is projected to at least 60 million doses from various manufacturers in 2021.
The procurement efforts of the national government has been a subject of various controversies. Health Secretary Francisco Duque has been alleged to "dropped the ball" in a deal with Pfizer vaccine deal which could have secured 10 million doses by as early as January 2021. Plans to secure 25 million doses from China's Sinovac has also been put into scrutiny in the Congress due to its reported efficacy rate. Late stage trials of Sinovac's vaccine in Brazil reported an efficacy rate of only 50 percent. There were concerns within the Senate that the reported 50-percent efficacy rate of Sinovac's vaccine would not garner public trust and would be a waste of government funds. The Department of Health said that Sinovac's vaccine satisfy the World Health Organization standards of at least 50 percent efficacy rate while the FDA pointed out that Sinovac is yet to publish an official and published scientific report on their vaccines efficacy rate and that the clinical trial for the vaccine is conducted in different countries and the efficacy rate per country will vary; as low as 50 percent in Brazil and as high as above 90 percent in Turkey.
Authorization and usage
On December 2, 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte signed an executive order allowing the Food and Drug Administration to grant emergency-use authorization (EUA) to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Under certain conditions, vaccines and drugs could be approved within a month instead of undergoing the usual six-month review process. Among the conditions is for a vaccine manufacturer to obtain prior EUA in its country of origin or other countries with a "mature" regulator. The FDA announced that three vaccine manufactures namely Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Sinovac have inquired on the process of obtaining an EUA in the Philippines. On December 23, Pfizer has applied for an EUA for its vaccine.
Duterte also said in December 2020 that some members of the military already received COVID-19 vaccine from Chinese manufacturer, Sinopharm despite the vaccine not yet officially approved by the country's health authorities. Few days later, it was reported that some members of the Presidential Security Group had also received vaccine from unknown manufacturer.
Early COVID-19 testing in the Philippines was only limited to persons with travel history to countries with cases of local transmission and those with exposure to the individuals confirmed to have COVID-19. The testing protocols were revised sometime in mid-March 2020 to give priority to the testing of any individual with severe symptoms as well as to the elderly, pregnant and immunocompromised persons with at least mild symptoms. On March 30, symptomatic healthcare workers are also considered priority for testing.
During his press briefing on May 19, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said that the people aimed to be tested in the government's "expanded targeted testing" are as follows: "(1) all symptomatic cases, (2) all of those coming from abroad, (3) all close contacts of confirmed cases that were found through contact tracing, and (4) all of those who tested positive on rapid antibody tests." The government is also opting to test through benchmarks, by testing 1–2% of the Philippines' entire population and 10–12% of the worst affected region in the country, which is Metro Manila.
In late March 2020, some politicians and their relatives were reportedly tested for the disease despite not showing any symptoms, causing public backlash amidst a shortage of testing kits since it was against DOH guidelines to test asymptomatic individuals. The DOH responded to the public criticism by clarifying that, while there is "no policy for VIP treatment" with regard to testing for COVID-19 and that "all specimens are being processed on a first-in, first-out basis," it "extends courtesy" to front line government officials, specifically those involved in national security and public health. Some senators who were tested claim that they used rapid antibody tests not accredited by the DOH at that time.
On January 24, 2021, after receiving a go-signal from the national government, the Philippine Red Cross announced that they will start conducting COVID-19 tests using saliva samples on January 25.
On March 9, 2020, a total of 2,000 tests has been conducted at a rate of 200 to 250 people accommodated by tests per day. The testing capacity of the Philippine government has been expanded by late March 2020. As of March 23, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa alone can test 600 people per day, other laboratories except for the facility of San Lazaro Hospital, Manila, can do 100 tests, while the said hospital can do 50 tests per day. By March 27, the release of test results conducted at the RITM takes five to seven days due to backlog, but the institute is committed to reducing the turnaround to two to three days. The DOH announced that the country will conduct targeted mass testing on April 14, which will be administered strictly for susceptible, probable, and high-risk patients, such as health workers, expectant mothers, and patients with other medical conditions. The country's testing continuously increased, except when RITM temporarily scaled down its operations from April 20–24 after 43 of its staffs tested positive for the virus.
The Philippines has the capability to conduct mass testing, either through reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) or rapid antibody testing, given the increased number and improving capacity of the country's accredited laboratories and the procurement of more testing kits. The first localized targeted mass testing began in Valenzuela, Metro Manila on April 11. Other local government units followed suit shortly after the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) adopted a resolution that commences 'a national government-enabled, local government unit-led, and people-centered response' to COVID-19.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved the usage of 75 PCR test kits (including one locally developed kit), 79 rapid antibody testing kits, 53 immunoassay testing kits, and 7 other testing kits as of July 30.
A locally developed PCR testing kit has been made by the National Institutes of Health at the University of the Philippines Manila. It is reportedly six times cheaper than its foreign counterparts. It was first approved for commercial use in April 2020 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but some kits were recalled in May by its manufacturer, after it was found out that testing using the kits yields indeterminate results 30 percent at the time. A month later, the testing kit were re-approved after its defects were fixed.
Before January 30, there were no medical facilities in the country that can confirm cases of the virus. Before that date, the RITM conducted preliminary tests on suspected cases to determine if they are infected with a coronavirus but could not detect the new strain on patients. Samples from suspected cases with confirmed coronavirus infection had to be sent abroad to the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia, for confirmatory testing specifically for SARS-CoV-2.
The National Task Force for COVID-19 created the Task Force T3 (Test, Trace, and Treat) to establish public-private partnerships that would conduct mass testings. The task force cited the San Miguel Corporation as a pioneer in the move to open its COVID-19 testing laboratory to initially test all of its 70,000 employees. As of August 24, the country has 110 subnational laboratories capable of detecting SARS-CoV-2.
From May 29 to June 17, 2020, the DOH had included testing backlogs on their daily case bulletin. These backlogs were referred to as "late cases" and were validated by the DOH's Epidemiology Bureau after more than four days of the release of test results. Late cases were reported alongside new cases or "fresh cases", which corresponded to the cases that were validated three days within the release of test results. This change was implemented by the health department to clarify the sudden increase of cases in the country. The then-largest single-day increase on the number of confirmed cases in the country has been accounted to the backlog in late June 2020, when 2,434 new cases were announced. 1,147 out of these cases were fresh cases and the remaining 1,287 were late cases. It surpassed the backlog in late May 2020, where 1,000 out of 1,046 cases were reported to be late cases.
The national government declared a state of calamity over all of the Philippines on March 16, 2020, by virtue of Proclamation No. 929 signed by President Rodrigo Duterte. The declaration brings into effect for six months the following:
- price control of basic needs and commodities,
- granting interest-free loans,
- distribution of calamity funds,
- authorization of importation and receipt of donations, and
- hazard allowance for public health workers and government personnel in the fields of science and technology.
Following the sharp increase of confirmed cases, President Duterte called on Congress to hold special sessions on March 23 to enact the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act upon his request, which would authorize Duterte to "reallocate, realign, and reprogram" a budget of almost ₱275 billion ($5.37 billion) from the estimated ₱438 billion ($8.55 billion) national budget approved for 2020, in response to the pandemic.
In the House of Representatives, the bill was introduced as House Bill No. 6616 with House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano of Pateros–Taguig as its principal sponsor and was defended on the floor by Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte of Camarines Sur's 2nd district. In the Senate of the Philippines, the bill was introduced as Senate Bill No. 1418 with Senate President Tito Sotto and Senator Pia Cayetano as its principal sponsors.
The House version of the bill passed the House of Representatives in a 284–9 vote without abstentions, while its Senate version unanimously passed the Senate. President Duterte signed the bill into law on March 25. The law was effective for three months until June 25, owing to its sunset provision.
A legislation was proposed to replace the Bayanihan Act, dubbed as the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2. On August 20, the bicameral committee approved a reconciled version of the bill. It was signed into law by President Duterte on September 11.
The government has varying levels of lockdown and/or stay-at-home orders across all the country's local government units characterized as "community quarantines". The strictest of these measures is designated as enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). Restrictions were imposed on various aspects of society such as mass public transportation, mass gathering, and operation of businesses.
In April 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte warned anyone who violates the country's lockdown measures could be shot for causing trouble.
Travel of foreign nationals to the Philippines is banned with few exceptions since March 2020. The issuance of visas to all foreign national on March 19 was stopped and all visas already issued are voided except to those issued to families of Filipino nationals would remain valid. Three days later a travel ban was imposed on all foreign nationals, except spouses of Filipino citizens (and their children), and workers for international organizations and non-governmental organizations accredited in the country.
The government of China and the United States has pledged support to the Philippine government response against COVID-19. China announced that it would be donating medical supplies including 100,000 testing kits, 100,000 surgical masks, 10,000 N95 masks, and 10,000 sets of personal protective equipment. The United States Agency for International Development also pledged $2.7 million worth of aid to help the Philippines develop adequate testing capabilities, and ensure the availability of medical supplies through the agency's "on-the-ground partners". China's aid was received on March 21, 2020.
On March 22, 2020, the DFA said that the Philippines would be receiving a donation from Singapore consisting of 3,000 testing kits and a polymerase chain reaction machine. In early April 2020, the DFA announced it received 20 units of testing kits, capable of 1,000 tests, from Brunei. The United Arab Emirates also donated medical supplies in May 2020.
On March 28, 2020, it was disclosed that some of the test kits made in China were only 40% accurate in testing for signs of the COVID-19 on an individual suspected to be infected with the disease. The test kits were donated by a private foundation.
The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) revised its economic growth outlook for the Philippines in 2020 from a 6.5% to 7.5% gross domestic product (GDP) growth registered in late 2019 to a 5.5% to 6.5% GDP growth, following the pandemic. The NEDA cited the decline in service exports, especially tourism. Moody's Analytics also reduced their GDP growth outlook for the country, from 5.9% in 2019 to 4.9% following the pandemic. Meanwhile, Nomura gave a bitter prediction of 1.6%, while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave an almost flat growth of 0.6% for this year before rebounding to 7.6% in 2021.
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin Diokno and then-NEDA Director-General Ernesto Pernia forecast that the Philippine economy would likely enter a recession in 2020 due to the effect of the pandemic. Diokno stated that, although the first quarter is likely to grow by 3% since the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine only took effect near the end of the quarter, the second and third quarters would likely experience contractions in economic growth.
The Philippines' real GDP contracted by 0.2% in the first quarter of 2020, the first contraction since the fourth quarter of 1998, a year after the Asian financial crisis, with a technical recession deemed "likely" to be posted within 2020.
On the other hand, the BSP records an inflation rate of 2.2% in April and 2.5% in March compared from 2.6% in February and 2.9% in January. The average rate of 2.6% for the period of January to April 2020 is also 1% lower compared to the inflation rate from the same period in the previous year. The event was primarily and hugely caused by lower oil prices and transportation costs, even if the prices of food supplies and alcoholic beverages and tobacco slightly rose.
In terms of the amount of economic loss that the Philippines is projected to suffer, NEDA gave a value of up to ₱2.0 trillion, or equivalent to about 9.4% of 2020 nominal GDP, while the Philippine Institute for Development Studies estimates at a maximum of ₱2.5 trillion. International organizations also gave their predictions, with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation envisioning a ₱273-billion loss and the Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières envisioning a combined loss of more than ₱1 trillion just in the month of April.
The pandemic also affected the goal of the Philippines to be among the countries with upper-middle-income country status by nominal GNI per capita. Before his resignation, Pernia said that the country will still achieve this goal by 2020, while his replacement, acting NEDA Director-General Karl Kendrick Chua, said last May that this goal will be achieved in 2022. Daniel Ross of Bloomberg also stated that the Philippines, which is "an economic star poised to outpace long-time regional winners such as China, Indonesia and India," will face hindrances amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 9, 2020, the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) index lost 457.77 points or 6.76%, its steepest decline since the financial crisis of 2007–08. The following day, shares plunged by 6.23% to ₱5,957.35 (US$117.54), settling below the 6,000 level benchmark and entering the bear market territory. The mining and oil industries were the most affected with a 9.05% drop, followed by holding companies with a 6.93% drop. The PSE's circuit breaker mechanism was invoked for the second time since the measure's introduction in 2008 halting trade for 15 minutes.
The Philippines' GDP saw its worst contraction since World War II posting a growth of −9.5% for 2020 according to the Philippine Statistics Authority records from 1947. The last full-year contraction was in 1998 amidst the Asian financial crisis where the GDP grew by −0.5%. The 2020 contraction was also worse than the – 7% contraction in 1984.
In terms of unemployment rate, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) records an estimated unemployment rate of 5.3% in January 2020, which is the same with January 2019. Moody's Analytics puts its estimate at 5.3% for the first quarter of 2020, while Nomura expects 7.5% for Q1 and a 13-year high of 8% in Q2 of this year. Meanwhile, the IMF stated that the unemployment rate in the country would be 6.2% for this year compared to 5.1% in 2019. A higher rate of 6.8% for this year was also predicted by S&P Global Ratings.
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines estimates that around 7,000 people may lose jobs within the first half of 2020 due to the pandemic. Economists from the Ateneo de Manila University estimate that 57% of the country's workforce may be displaced within the end of the first quarter of 2020. It comprises around 15 million workers in Luzon that were laid off due to the enhanced community quarantine, around four million of whom are based in Metro Manila, as well as an estimated 4.3 million workers in Visayas and another 4.3 million in Mindanao that were laid off due to quarantine restrictions.
In March, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) stated that 1.05 million workers were displaced due to the pandemic, even after they released guidelines for employers in handling the impact of COVID-19.
Some German businesses that are based in the country also reported to reduce investments in the country, but will continue to maintain their employees.
In early 2021, there were reports that some employers are requiring its workers to get vaccinated before allowing them to physically report for work, with some workers threatened to be placed on floating status if they are not able to comply. DOLE released a statement that such practice is illegal and workers should be only vaccinated on a voluntary basis.
Food service and supply
Following directives from the Philippine government, several fast food and restaurant chains suspended dine-in services and restricted operations to take-out and delivery. Following the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine, online food ordering services such as GrabFood and Foodpanda temporarily halted but eventually resumed operations in Luzon during the quarantine period.
Production and distribution
Food production and distribution slowed down during the pandemic, especially in Luzon, primarily due to the lack of financial assistance and inaccessibility of transportation resulting from community quarantine measures being implemented across numerous local governments. The delivery of fresh vegetables from the province of Benguet, which supplies the country with over 80 percent of the country's highland vegetable requirements, was halted due to the implementation of an "extreme enhanced" community quarantine in La Trinidad. Local government officials advised local rice farmers to sell their harvests to them, assuring them that they would help distribute it to their respective communities amid the border restrictions.
On March 27, Vietnam announced that it would reduce its production and exportation of rice due to food security amid the pandemic. The Philippines, the largest importer of rice in the world, imports 25% of its rice from Vietnam. Agriculture Secretary William Dar assured that there would be "no shortage of the staple during the duration of the enhanced community quarantine and beyond" as "harvest [is] already coming in." Dar also stated the Department of Agriculture's plans to initiate early planting in the Cagayan Valley and Central Luzon, two of the largest rice producers in the country, ahead of the third quarter of 2020.
Production of canned fish in the country was adversely affected with Zamboanga City, which accounts for 85% of the country's canned fish industry, announcing it would reduce the production of canned fish in the Philippines by 50–60% due to difficulties encountered following the implementation of a city-wide lockdown.
The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) ordered the suspension of all gaming operations in the country, including the land-based casinos in Entertainment City and Newport City, on March 15. The gaming regulator also announced that they were limiting the operations of Philippine offshore gaming operations in the region.
Illegal gambling activities conducted online, including online cockfighting or e-sabong, through social media has proliferated amidst the pandemic. PAGCOR has aimed to regulate online cockfighting, as part of efforts to expand the source of funds for the government.
A shortage of medical masks was reported in various parts of the country due to concerns over the pandemic. RITM director Celia Carlos urged the public against hoarding masks to ensure ample supply for medical workers directly dealing with patients suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 infection. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), in cooperation with the Philippine National Police, are acting against reports of traders hoarding face masks and selling said item at an overpriced rate. The DTI has also directed its Philippine International Trading Corp. to import 5 million masks from overseas. Medtecs International Corp. Ltd., the sole manufacturer of medical mask in the country, has committed to supply the government through the DTI.
Doctors in the Philippines have deplored the shortages in personal protective equipment amid the pandemic, and was even cited as the cause of high infection rate and death rate of healthcare workers in the country. To address this issue, the Philippine government continues to procure and stockpile such equipment, as the pandemic is expected to last until 2021.
According to Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, the country also issued requests for ventilators and respirators that will be used for severe or critical COVID-19 patients, as there are reported shortages of these equipment.
According to the Philippine Retailers Association, the "total retail environment" saw a decline of 30–50%. SM Investments, the country's largest retailer, saw a decline of 10–20% in domestic sales. Despite the decline, most retail stores that provide essential services, including supermarkets, convenience stores, hardware stores, and pharmacies, remained open across the country to sustain consumers while other establishments at malls closed down. Such retail stores, however, imposed strict social distancing measures with some supermarkets only allowing 50 customers inside at a time and placing stickers on the floor to indicate that customers must stand one meter apart from each other. Stores were also regularly disinfected and customers were required to undergo a temperature check before entering. In the Greater Manila Area, several online grocers continued to operate, but with limited delivery slots. After most industries in the country being closed for two months, many stores in the retail sector are already allowed to open under revised guidelines of eased community quarantines.
Panic buying and hoarding became rampant across the country, especially with essential goods such as food and sanitation products. The Philippine Amalgamated Supermarkets Association reported that the purchases of masks, alcohol, and other personal hygiene products in supermarkets across the country had already surged, urging the public against panic buying.
Economic think-tank Fitch Solutions forecasts that the consumer and retail sector, especially non-essential businesses, would be one of the hardest-hit sectors in the Philippines as it loses sales revenue for an entire month due to the Luzon enhanced community quarantine (Luzon accounts for 73% of the country's GDP). Fitch Solutions forecasts the household final consumption expenditure for the country in 2020 to expand by 6.7% year-over-year, which was adjusted from a "pre-coronavirus projection" for 2020 of 7% growth year-over-year.
Mall operators across the country, such as Ayala, Megaworld, SM, Robinsons, and Vista, initially shortened the operating hours of its malls to comply with government quarantine measures. While doing so, malls were asked to implement social distancing measures; for example, several malls implemented a "single-seat gap" policy in cinemas, in which moviegoers were required to sit one seat apart from each other. However, most malls in the country have since limited its operations to establishments providing essential services, particularly groceries, banks, and hardware stores.
Local airlines AirAsia, Philippine Airlines, and Cebu Pacific suspended flights in response to the imposition of travel bans by the Philippine government and some foreign governments. The airlines have suspended flights as early as February 2, 2020, covering routes involving destinations in China, Hong Kong and Macau. At least Philippine Airlines has suspended all of its flights by March 2020, although the airline has announced plans to resume selected flights by June 1, 2020.
The 2020 census of population and housing in the Philippines was originally scheduled in May but was postponed indefinitely due to the increasing number of cases in the country. As the quarantine measures began to ease, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) started to conduct the census in September, despite the risk of spreading the virus.
2019–2020 academic year
Suspension of classes began as early as March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 16, the Department of Education (DepEd) issued guidelines prohibiting public schools in areas with suspended classes from administering the final examinations of students and instead compute the students' final grades for the 2019–20 academic year based on "their current academic standing." and directed schools in other areas to administer final examinations within that week on a "staggered basis" and for teachers and students to observe social distancing measures.
Some universities resorted to implementing online learning alternatives. The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) also advised institutions of higher education to implement distance education methods of learning for its classes, such as the use of educational technology, to maximize the academic term despite the suspensions; However, following the announcement of the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon and other areas, colleges and universities suspended mandatory online classes in consideration of the welfare of its students, faculty, and staff. Academic administration offices continued to operate with a skeleton crew, while other offices in colleges and universities operated through telecommuting arrangements. Some schools, however, continued to hold online classes, and in response, several student groups appealed to CHED to suspend mandatory online classes in consideration of the logistical limitations and well-being of a majority of students.
Classes in all levels across the country were eventually suspended due to the pandemic. Graduation rites in Philippine schools were also either canceled, postponed, or held virtually. However, as to whom would graduate is still unknown since the issue of 'mass promotion' in primary, secondary, and tertiary levels remains highly debated.[excessive citations]
2020–2021 academic year
The official start of classes for the 2020–21 school year could only be legally set as late as the last day of August. However, Republic Act No. 11480 was signed into law to allow the start of classes to be set beyond August. The Department of Education has moved the opening of classes to October 5, 2020. Earlier in June, officials reported that schools will not open until a vaccine is available, though remote learning should resume at the end of August.
A group of UP experts has proposed the start of classes to be pushed back to December in order to limit the spread of the disease.
CHED left the decision of starting semesters to college administrators, although urged them to shift into the new semestral calendar and start 'flexible classes' in August and face-to-face classes in September as well. Certain measures have been proposed to be implemented during the opening of classes, such as the airing of lectures on television and radio, a "mandatory face mask policy," maintaining physical distancing, and limiting class sizes.
The NEDA reported that the coronavirus pandemic would incur a ₱22.7 billion ($448 million) monthly loss of tourism revenue for the Philippines and the impact of the pandemic could last around five to six months based from past experiences from the SARS, H1N1, and the MERS outbreaks. Over 5,200 flights covering two months, which was to be serviced by member airlines of the Air-Carriers Association of the Philippines, were canceled. Meanwhile, the Asian Development Bank predicts a ₱111 billion ($2.2 billion) loss in the tourism sector, while the Tourism Congress of the Philippines estimates the figures at around ₱20 billion ($395 thousand), considering that 12.7% of the Philippines' GDP is generated through tourism. Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières also reported potential damage in Philippine tourism.
The Philippine Shopping Festival, a nationwide mall sale event backed by the Department of Tourism originally scheduled on March 1–31 was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several local festivals across the country were also either canceled or postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including Panagbenga Festival in Baguio, Kadayawan sa Dabaw Festival in Davao City, Moriones Festival in Marinduque, and San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites in Pampanga.[excessive citations]
The impact of COVID-19 in prisons in the Philippines is projected to be "dangerous," since its jails have the highest occupancy rate in the world that stands at 534%. The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology has temporarily suspended the acceptance of visitors in prisons it manages as early as March 2020, encouraging would-be visitors to avail the e-dalaw service which would allow inmates to communicate with relatives online.
Certain human rights groups raised their concerns on the issue. Human Rights Watch flagged the cases of dying inmates in prison cells and called for the freedom of minor offenders, the elderly, and the ill. Karapatan and KAPATID both called for the release of political prisoners that belongs to vulnerable sector as a way to decongest Philippine jails amidst COVID-19 pandemic.
A group of 22 high-risk prisoners (either of old age, immunocompromised, or pregnant) also asked for temporary liberty due to 'humanitarian grounds' since "hellish prison conditions in the Philippines make the detainees vulnerable to COVID-19." All of the 22 prisoners, five of which are consultants of New Peoples' Army (NPA), are asking to be allowed to post bail or to be released under personal recognizance. They are represented by Public Interest Law Center (PILC) and the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL). Similarly, one of the suspects in the death of Horacio "Atio" Castillo III pleaded for freedom under the guise of the COVID-19's threat.
In mid-April, the Supreme Court (SC) reiterated its 2014 circular, which allows the temporary freedom of "persons deprived of liberty" who were able to serve their minimum penalty during an ongoing trial or those whose trial are paused due to lack of witnesses. Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also signed resolutions that relaxes bail prices for indigent inmates and requirements to avail parole and executive clemency. On May 2, Associate Justice Mario Victor Leonen announced that there were 9,731 detainees released temporarily by the SC from March 17 to April 29 as a way to alleviate the country's overcrowding prisons.
Entertainment and media
The DOH issued an advisory for the cancellation of large public events and mass gatherings, such as concerts, until further notice to minimize the risk of spreading the disease. This prompted several local and international artists to either cancel or postpone their scheduled concerts and fan meets.
Local television networks temporarily stopped admitting live audiences for their television shows, including variety shows Eat Bulaga! on GMA Network as well as It's Showtime and ASAP on ABS-CBN. On March 13, both ABS-CBN and GMA announced that they would suspend productions on their drama shows as well as other entertainment programs by March 15, replacing affected programs with reruns of previous series or extended newscast runs.
Broadcast radio companies are also curtailing their operations during the quarantine period, either by shortening their broadcast hours and/or suspending regular programming in favor of "special broadcasts".
The Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines has issued preventive guidelines against the pandemic through the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). In January 2020, the CBCP issued a liturgical guideline which urges Mass attendees to "practice ordinarily" the receiving of communion by hand, and avoid holding hands while praying the Lord's Prayer during Mass. As a spiritual measure against the spread of the disease, the CBCP also composed an oratio imperata (obligatory prayer) which is to be recited during Mass. In February 2020, the CBCP issued a second liturgical guideline in anticipation of the Lenten season. The bishops suggested that during Ash Wednesday, ashes would be sprinkled on the faithfuls' head instead of the customary marking of the forehead with a cross to minimize body contact. The CBCP also urged people to refrain from kissing or touching the cross for veneration during Good Friday, particularly the celebration of the Passion of Jesus. They suggested genuflection or bowing as an alternative to the practice. Dioceses across the country have suspended the public celebration of Masses. On April 8, Holy Wednesday, the CBCP organized an interfaith prayer service against the spread of the coronavirus, which was televised nationwide.
Other Christian denominations and organizations, such as the Iglesia ni Cristo and the Jehovah's Witnesses, have suspended live worship services and resorted to organizing worship services through online platforms. The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, an organization composed of Evangelical and Protestant church member organizations in the country, also adopted similar measures.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints directed missionaries assigned in the Philippines who are not native to the country to move out for temporary reassignment to another country. They were ordered to self-quarantine in their new homes for 14 days.
The Islamic community in the Philippines has also adopted measures against COVID-19. The Regional Darul Ifta' of Bangsamoro suspended all congregational prayers in the Bangsamoro region from March 19 to April 10.
Several ongoing or scheduled seasons of sports leagues in the Philippines, such as the ASEAN Basketball League, Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League, Philippine Basketball Association, National Basketball League, Philippines Football League, and Philippine Super Liga, were suspended. Upcoming sporting competitions hosted by the country, specifically the Badminton Asia Championships (initially scheduled to be hosted in Wuhan but was moved to Manila) and the AFF Women's Championship, were postponed. Regional qualification games involving Philippine national teams were likewise postponed.
On April 29, 2020, the Philippine Sports Commission have announced that they will cancel all of their sporting events until December 2020 to comply with government directives that prohibit mass gathering events. This meant that the Palarong Pambansa in Marikina, the Philippine National Games, and the ASEAN Para Games were all cancelled.
The Commission on Elections has suspended the nationwide voter registration on March 10 until the end of the month due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The registration period began on January 20, 2020, and is scheduled to run until September 30, 2021. The suspension was later extended to last until the end of April. The issuance of voter's certification is also suspended until further notice. The next national elections scheduled in the Philippines are in May 2022. The plebiscite to ratify legislation that proposes the partition of Palawan into three smaller provinces scheduled for May 2020 was also delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Misinformation and hoaxes
After the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines, conspiracy theories, misinformation, and disinformation emerged online regarding the origin, scale, prevention, treatment, and various other aspects of the disease. Among these hoaxes include:
- SARS-CoV-2 being a type of rabies along with advice to not eat bats. The virus is in the coronavirus family and is unrelated to rabies.
- Boiled ginger as a cure for COVID-19. There is no concrete scientific proof for this claim. Mark Pasayan, a doctor from the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases says that while a cold weather may make one more susceptible to the COVID-19 infection, the intake of hot or cold food does not correlate with the prevention and treatment of the disease.
- In the first week of February, the government supposedly imposed a 14-day quarantine for travelers coming from 20 countries. An infographic supporting the claim was circulated purportedly from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). On February 7, the DILG denied the claim. At that time the quarantine measure is only being imposed from travelers from three territories: Mainland China, Macau, and Hong Kong.
- Viral posts with various claims such as avoidance of eating ice cream and cold food, and encouraging exposure to sunlight as a means of prevention against COVID-19 purportedly from UNICEF. UNICEF Philippines has issued a statement disassociating itself from the posts peddling false and misleading information.
- The DOH supposedly issuing an advisory on the proliferation of fake cigarettes which is claimed to be a method of transmission of COVID-19. The government agency did not issue such advisory.
- A widely circulated graphic on social media claimed that gargling warm water with salt would "eliminate the virus." DOH Undersecretary Eric Domingo said that while the saline water has been a recognized home treatment for symptoms of a sore throat for many generations, there is no evidence suggesting its capability to kill the virus.
- A supposed video spread on the internet about how bananas can cure COVID-19. This information was even advocated by the presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo. However, DOH Spokesperson Ma. Rosario Vergeire debunked this claim, saying that while bananas is a healthy food source, there are no conclusive evidences yet about its effectivity against coronavirus.
- On March 21, 2020, several netizens on Facebook shared misleading posts about the Philippine Air Force and the Philippine National Police using helicopters to spray pesticides among major cities in an effort to disinfect the virus. The Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, the Department of Health, and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) have refuted these claims. Furthermore, the Department of Health added on its official website that there is no evidence that pesticide sprays can kill the Coronavirus.
- The Palace also disproved posts circulating online about the declaration of "Total Lockdown" nationwide and warned its peddlers of imminent arrest. At the time of the circulation, the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon was already in effect.
- A controversial statement from President Rodrigo Duterte claiming that gasoline may be used as a disinfectant in absence of hand sanitizers has been refuted by the Integrated Chemists of the Philippines and warned the public that gasoline is harmful to the body especially if inhaled.
The DOH has advised against spreading misinformation and unverified claims concerning the pandemic.
The Philippine National Police has taken action against the spread of misinformation related to the pandemic and has warned the public that misinformation purveyors could be charged for violating Presidential Decree no. 90 for "declaring local rumor, mongering and spreading false information". In the case of misinformation circulated online, violators could be charged for violating the Cybercrime Prevention Act which has a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 12 years. The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act also punishes fake news peddlers of two months jail time or fine of up to ₱1 million.
According to the DOH, the cremation of the body of the first confirmed COVID-19 death in the Philippines has been hampered by the proliferation of misinformation.
The DOH publishes official numbers through its daily case bulletins at around 4 pm. The case bulletin initially had been accompanied by a virtual presser discussing the current status of the pandemic in the country. The virtual presser was discontinued in August and only being held on certain occasions.
|Note: Data as of April 11, 2021; 4:00 PM (PST)|
Source: Department of Health's COVID-19 Case Tracker
In the table below, the general lethality of COVID-19 in the Philippines is presently given around 1.71%, implying about 2 deaths and 98 potential survivors per 100 cases. To compare the three well-known coronavirus diseases, the case fatality rate of the 2002 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak was higher at 11%, while that of the 2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak was much higher at 36%.
- Breakdown of confirmed cases is according to the COVID-19 Tracker of the Department of Health (DOH). Take note that the map may not reflect all affected localities. The methodology on how COVID-19 patients are recorded in a particular locality in the tracker is unclear and may vary. Cases under validation including cases among repatriates may not reflect on the map.
- Other independent cities' cases are grouped with their geographically and statistically associated provinces (e.g. Puerto Princesa with Palawan, Zamboanga City with non-contiguous Zamboanga del Sur).
- Cotabato City's cases are still considered as cases under the Soccsksargen region despite being part of Bangsamoro since the city has not yet formally been turned over to the Bangsamoro regional government at the time records began. For the purpose of the map, its cases are considered part of Maguindanao.
- The patient arrived in the Philippines from Wuhan, China via Hong Kong on January 21 and sought consultation on January 25 after experiencing a mild cough.
- COVID-19 deaths according to the Philippine Statistics Authority as of the year-end of 2020. 19,758 were under "COVID-19 virus not identified" and 8,209 were under "COVID-19 virus identified." Includes probable and suspect cases.
- Breakdown of confirmed cases by region is according to the COVID-19 Tracker of the Department of Health (DOH). Cases in Cotabato City, a part of Bangsamoro, is under the Soccsksargen region since the city has not yet formally been turned over to the Bangsamoro regional government.
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- "Regulations allowing 'e-sabong' to protect bettors, help gov't collect proper taxes: PAGCOR". ABS-CBN News. October 14, 2020. Retrieved December 15, 2020.