Rising hunger and other health problems led economic managers to push for the nationwide shift to MGCQ in March even if the country has yet to start its COVID-19 vaccination program, Trade Sec. Ramon Lopez said Friday.
While an initial supply of COVID-19 vaccines is forthcoming, the bulk of the Philippines' supply will only be available in the latter part of 2021 which begs the question of how to address the growing financial woes of Filipinos due to the pandemic, Lopez said.
"What if hindi pa ho kaagad ma-implement (vaccination program)? Kahit may dumating ngayong February, hindi ba ang sabi po, ang report ho ni Secretary Galvez iyong bulk naman ng ating vaccine darating second quarter/third quarter," he said in a televised press briefing.
"Again, we can imagine each day na walang pagkain iyong ibang kababayan natin, each day na nagugutom at nama-malnourish po sila, ano ho kaya ang gagawin natin sa kanila? So, iyon ho ang big question," he added.
The National Economic Development Authority has recommended easing quarantine restrictions nationwide to the most relaxed--modified general community quarantine to spur economic activity.
Government officials initially touted the supposed start of the country's mass vaccination program on Feb. 15 but several delays have hampered the effort. Immunization czar Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr. on Friday apologized for the delay in the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, as the arrival of the first shipments was pushed back.
Lopez also clarified that while authorities are pushing to ease restrictions, minimum health standards such as wearing face masks and physical distancing should still be strictly observed.
"Ang health protocol po hindi ho niluluwagan, it’s only opening a bit the economy and hopefully down the road, iyong pati age restriction," he said.
"Iyong worry lang po natin, each day na lumalampas at walang makain iyong iba nating mga kababayan, iyon ho ay problema ho natin. Hindi ho naman makakasakit itong gagawin natin," he added.