President Rodrigo Duterte will deliver his State of the Nation Address on Monday and the theme this year is undeniable -- COVID-19. The pandemic has changed the way we live and with no vaccine in sight, quarantine life is here indefinitely. The speech is expected to set the direction for the rest of the year.
On Sunday, confirmed infections breached the 80,000 mark. Patients are increasing as expected after restrictions were loosened last June 1. Only last week, the 70,000 threshold was exceeded. Metro Manila is in danger of returning to a lockdown or modified enhanced community quarantine if local executives fail to cap rising cases.
Aside from the human toll, the virus also tipped the Philippines into a recession (two successive quarters of the economy shrinking). Unemployment is at an all time high of 17.7 percent, with the total jobless at 7.3 million. According to an opinion poll, some 5.2 million went hungry in the last three months because they had nothing to eat.
What's next for COVID-19?
In public fora before Monday's SONA, authorities discussed a four-point strategy to combat the pandemic: test, trace, isolate and treat. A "czar" was appointed for each of the tasks. The Testing Czar, Sec. Vince Dizon, said testing in pools of 10 to 20 at a time could allow screening for the entire Metro Manila, the Philippines' outbreak epicenter.
In another preview, Sec. Carlito Galvez, the chief implementer of the COVID-19 strategy, said future lockdowns will be targeted or granular as opposed to locking down entire regions. The entire National Capital Region was on lockdown for 11 weeks from mid-March, with severe restrictions to movement.
Duterte is expected to elaborate on these in the SONA.
Where's the vaccine?
The Philippines doesn't produce any vaccine and will need to participate in human trials to be able to procure the drugs once they are available. The head of the country's COVID vaccine search committee, microbiologist and immunologist Nina Gloriani told reportr Phase 3 trials that run for six months will not start until September or October. That means it will not be commercially available until next year.
Manila has its own trials, parallel to the United Nations-led solidarity trials and tests by the global alliance called COVAX. Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said he put the country in line for a COVID-19 vaccine by US manufacturers.
What's happening on the ground?
Testing centers are sprouting all over the capital, both from private hospitals and local governments. Some are free like the drive-thru and walk-in centers in Manila. Authorities tightened the enforcement of face mask-wearing in public upon Duterte's orders.
Businesses are gradually reopening, but with strict enforcement of physical distancing and temperature checks. Only last week, restaurants and bars were allowed to accept more customers, operate up to 11 p.m. and sell up to two servings of alcohol per customer, signalling the return of "two bottles."
The stress is real, actually at "high" levels for 8 in 10 Filipinos, according to the Social Weather Stations. A separate SWS poll showed that regardless of the strictness of quarantine, Filipinos obey virus protocols, countering the opinion that the public is "pasaway" or disobedient.
What's the new normal for the SONA?
The red carpets that characterized past SONAs will give way to temperature screening, mandatory face masks and RT-PCR or swab testing for everyone who will attend the event at the Batasang Pambansa. Attendance will be limited to just 25 at the main hall for the House of Representatives. Duterte will deliver his SONA in person at Batasan, unless any of the swab tests yield a positive result, in which case, it will be broadcast from the Palace, Malacanang said on Sunday.