COVID-19 cases in the Philippines topped the one million mark on Monday, the grim milestone reached faster because of a fresh surge in infections that has forced fresh lockdowns and strained hospital capacity.
There were 8,929 new COVID-19 cases reported, bringing the total infections to 1,006,428 since the pandemic started last year. Active COVID-19 cases stood at 74,623, the Department of Health said.
Seventy new deaths were reported and 11,333 new recoveries, bringing the totals to 16, 853 and 914,952 respectively.
How did we get here?
Health authorities have said that new virus variants and vaccine complacency have pushed the virus reproduction rate in the country leading to a surge in new COVID-19 cases.
Variants such as those first detected from the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil, and even a local "variant of concern" called P3 increased the speed of infection, overwhelming hospitals.
And with vaccines only made available to frontliners and the elderly so far, many remain vulnerable to the virus. The healthcare system was unable to keep up prompting the government to reimpose the strictest lockdown, ECQ, in Metro Manila Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite, and Rizal. It was downgraded one notch to MECQ, scheduled to last until April 30.
'Not a negative reflection'
The grim milestone is not a "negative reflection" of the Philippines' pandemic response, Palace Spokesperson Harry Roque said, noting the suge in COVID-19 cases in other countries.
"Itong paglobo ng numero hindi lang po Pilipinas yan," Roque said in a Palace press briefing on Monday.
Despite the rise in COVID-19 cases, Roque said the country's COVID-19 death rate is still below the global average, showing that "we are still managing the new variants rather well."
"Huwag lang po natin tingnan yung total figures. Tingnan natin yung figures ng gumagaling...at tsaka yung ating case fatality rate na mababa po sa world average..." he said.
Since the Philippines reported its first case of COVID-19 in January 2020, the country has been on guard against the spread of the virus that has claimed over three million lives worldwide.
In March 2020, the government declared lockdowns to control the spread of the virus and started establishing COVID-19 protocols such as the mandatory wearing of face masks and physical distancing. Later in the year, the government required wearing face shields too.
It was in June 2020 that the government began to ease the quarantines to salvage the economy and as COVID-19 cases declined only to revive stricter measures again in August for about two weeks due to a spike in infections.
For the last quarter of the year, most areas in the Philippines were under the more relaxed general community quarantine until the surge in early 2021.
President Rodrigo Duterte had said that with the help of vaccines, the Philippines could return to "normal," by 2023.