It’s been a year since the Philippines was first put in lockdown. A lot has happened and much has changed, but quite a few things have stayed the same. Here’s a quick rundown on what’s changed after a year of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines.
An alarmingly steep increase in cases
The first case of COVID-19 in the Philippines was confirmed on 30 January 2020. Back then, it seemed like something that could still be contained. But two months later, on 15 March 2020, the number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines was 140, and the death toll was 12. One year later, the country has recorded 611,618 cases: 52,012 active. 12,694 have died. Just this weekend, the Philippines logged 5,000 new cases — the highest since August 2020.
Lockdown last year, lockdown this year
On 15 March 2020, Metro Manila was put in lockdown. A day later, the island of Luzon followed suit. Then another day later, the entire country was put in lockdown. The Philippines would struggle through two and a half months of an “enhanced community quarantine” (ECQ) or what was essentially a total lockdown where people could not go out of their houses except for procuring essentials and only within a given time period.
Since then, different parts of the country have been in different levels of community quarantine ranging from ECQ to modified ECQ to general community quarantine (GCQ) to modified GCQ at different times. And one year later, Metro Manila is once again being put under curfew due to the rising number of cases.
Hospitals are still overwhelmed
Two weeks within the implementation of ECQ in March 2020, private hospitals had stopped accepting COVID-19 patients due to the overwhelming numbers entering their doors. The Medical City head Dr. Eugenio Ramos compared the time to “wartime.”
The hospital admissions throughout the year fluctuated, then remained steady at the start of the year. However, early this month, there was another increase in hospital admissions, which meant the rising of cases and the subsequent overwhelming of hospitals.
So many businesses now closed
When the lockdown was first announced last March 2020, many businesses were hoping to only temporarily halt operations. However, when the lockdown extended for weeks, months, and now a year, the country has seen thousands of businesses both big and small forced to close down.
According to the September 2020 data from the Department of Trade and Industry, 90,000 businesses were still closed then. Some big names that have closed their doors are Topshop and Shangri-La Makati, though the latter has said the closure is only temporary.
Unemployment is at a high
In January 2020, the unemployment rate of the country was at 5.3%, which meant 2.4 million Filipinos were without jobs. A few months later, with many businesses temporarily closed down, many Filipinos were forcibly laid off, which led to an immediate spike of the unemployment rate to 17.6%.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority’s latest data, four million Filipinos were jobless in January 2021, which is nearly double compared to the same month in 2020. With a lot of businesses still closed and most freeze-hiring to survive, it seems this number would remain steady for a while, as it had since October 2020.
Vaccines are arriving
This time last year, the whole world was crippled with fear against this new and unknown virus especially when there was no known cure or vaccine. Countries all over the world scrambled to create a vaccine to combat the pandemic.
Within the year, several companies/countries have passed the clinical trials of their vaccines, which allowed for emergency use all over the world. This year, the Philippines have also secured different kinds of vaccines for Filipinos, with priorities given to healthcare workers and senior citizens. The vaccines will be distributed according to local government units.
Face-to-face classes may still be far in the future
Schools were suddenly forced to close when the lockdown was implemented last March 2020. Students and teachers were forced to move to the online set-up, but many were left without access to education due to the lack of resources.
A lot of students and educators alike are eagerly awaiting the return of face-to-face classes, but it seems not possible anytime soon with the rising number of cases in the Philippines. Even the president has said that going back to in-person classes wouldn’t be immediately possible even with the arrival of the vaccines. “Wag muna. Not now. I cannot make that decision. It will place the children in jeopardy. . . . I am not ready to lose the lives of our young people, our children,” he said in a press conference on February 2021.
When will we see the end to this pandemic?
Many have been hoping the vaccines would be the answer to ending the pandemic. Experts in the United States, one of the hardest hit countries, have different opinions on when we could safely assume the pandemic has ended. Maybe when there are no more cases all over the world. Or when we have learned to live with this disease as we have all others. Or maybe when we can compare it to a seasonal flu. But right now, it seems we’re still far from that. The US keeps on seeing the number of cases rise, much like it is rising in the Philippines. And even if one country does contain it (as some like New Zealand have already done), the world won’t return to normal (or as normal as can be), if there are still pockets in the world struggling with the virus and taking drastic measures such as lockdowns.
As the World Health Organization director general has said, “We cannot end the pandemic anywhere unless we end it everywhere.”
What else have you observed?