The pandemic is perceived as among the most urgent issues people hope would be highlighted in President Rodrigo Duterte’s final State of the Nation Address. But the health crisis was mentioned already 2 hours into the annual address to Congress.
He did mention healthcare workers in the first few minutes of his speech. He thanked them for the efforts and sacrifices they have made for more than a year since the pandemic crippled the country.
Duterte’s delay in addressing the topic of the COVID-19 pandemic caught some Filipinos’ attention when more than an hour had passed since his address started.
“After 2 hours. Take note, after 2 hours,” a Twitter user commented when the chief executive has begun to talk about the public health crisis.
“You’d think this would be on top of the list instead of the drug war,” wrote another online user.
“Dalawang oras nang kumukuda ng walang kwenta?!!?! Jusko nakakaawa ‘yung nasa Batasan,” exclaimed a different Filipino.
“Grabe, it took him 2 hours before talking about the thing that he should talk about kanina pa, because at the moment, that should be his top priority,” another Twitter user wrote.
Commenting after listening for an hour and a half, Dr. Tony Leachon, former special adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19, similarly noticed the scant mention of the topic in Duterte’s speech.
“One and half hours… I have yet to (hear) the Philippine COVID pandemic response,” he tweeted before.
“I appreciate past achievements but PRRD should live in the present and articulate clear directions on the current COVID status—how he would achieve herd immunity to end the pandemic to reopen the economy,” Leachon added.
Prior to the public health crisis, Duterte talked about uniformed personnel, communism, his administration’s “War on Drugs” campaign, the return of the Balangiga bells and the West Philippine Sea in the first hour of his speech.
He started his last SONA past four in the afternoon but it was only past six in the evening when he ventured about the COVID-19 pandemic which is currently crippling the country.
The Department of Health last week confirmed the local transmission of the Delta variant which has been called by the World Health Organization as the “fastest and fittest” of the COVID-19 variants so far.
“It is a variant of concern because we know it has increased transmissibility,” Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist and WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, was quoted as saying before.
“This has been demonstrated by several countries and we know that where the Delta variant is identified, it really rapidly takes off and spreads between people more efficiently than even the Alpha variant that was first detected in January 2021,” she added.
The Delta variant was found to be between 40% and 60% more transmissible than the already highly infectious Alpha variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom.
The Alpha variant in itself is 50% more transmissible than the original strain found in Wuhan, China.
A study from Scotland, where the Delta variant was reportedly predominating, found that it has led to 85% higher hospital admissions than other strains but most of the cases involve unvaccinated people.
California-based UC Davis Health notes that “the symptoms of the Delta variant appear to be the same as the original version of COVID-19.”
“However, physicians are seeing people getting sicker quicker, especially for younger people. Recent research found that the Delta variant grows more rapidly – and to much greater levels – in the respiratory tract,” it said.
“In communities with lower vaccination rates, particularly rural areas with limited access to care, the Delta variant could be even more damaging. This is already being seen around the world in poorer countries where the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t as accessible. Health experts say the impact could be felt for decades to come,” the academic health center said.
Duterte in his final SONA vowed to “push the entire government to ensure nothing than the full recovery and revitalization” of the country.
“It is necessary for us to first overcome the crippling fear and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 virus,” he added.
Duterte also urged local government units to strengthen their vaccination programs.
He additionally requested the Congress to create a law creating the country’s version of the United States’ Center for Disease Prevention and Control, and the Virology and Vaccine Institute of the Philippines.
“We hope to pursue [the] creation of public entities dedicated to emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases,” Duterte said.
“Never did I imagine did my presidency be judged how I make good on my campaign promises—fighting illegal drugs, criminality, and corruption—but how well I led our nation during a global pandemic,” he further said.