We've Been in Lockdown So Long That the COVID-19 Generation Babies Have Been Born
Factory worker Mary Joy Sendon experienced a miracle this year, she got pregnant and gave birth to her first child after a heartbreaking miscarriage. Baby Jeriah, like thousands conceived and born during the quarantine, offer some hope that 2021 will be better than the nightmare that was 2020.
When Sendon emerges from her maternity leave, the Philippines would be in the thick of preparations for a COVID-19 vaccination program, which could start as early as March, or one year into the nationwide quarantine that changed life as we know it and left millions jobless.
"I really chose to have a baby. When the lockdown was imposed here in Tanauan, Batangas on March 17, we decided to have a baby so I knew that I would become pregnant," Sendon told reportr in Filipino.
"But what we didn't know then was that the lockdown would last this long but we're still grateful to have a baby," said Sendon, who gave birth on Dec. 2.
As the Population Commission predicted, strict stay at home orders have resulted in a baby boom. Some 2 million babies conceived during the lockdowns are expected to be born until early 2021, of which around 214,000 are unplanned due to limited access to family planning tools during the lockdown.
In October, Malacañang refused to view the baby boom as "bad news," saying the country's greatest resource is its people. “We don’t view the children who will be born as a problem, we view them as a blessing,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque had said.
With the Philippines rushing to secure an ample supply of COVID-19 vaccines for its 100-million strong population, a marked increase in birth rate adds to the challenge.
How fast and how well President Rodrigo Duterte's administration rolls out its COVID-19 vaccination program will "set the stage" for all of the country's affairs—from politics to socials to economics--in 2021, said political analyst Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.
"Everything will be about the vaccine next year. It sets the stage for everything. It would dictate the country's life basically," Casiple told reportr.
The UK in early December became the first nation to roll out a mass COVID-19 vaccination program starting with the elderly. Other nations such as France and the United States are expected to quickly follow suit.
The Duterte government's "best-case" scenario assumes a late March 2021 rollout with the initial supply of vaccines likely coming from China. Frontliners and the elderly are first in line to get vaccinated.
Duterte's ability to secure a vaccine will be "major factor" in his approval ratings, according to University of Santo Tomas Department of Political Science chair Dennis Coronacion.
"If many countries are already starting their own vaccination programs before the Philippines, Filipinos might feel like they are the underdog..." Coronacion told reportr.
"But for someone who's about to step down, he's been given enough time to prove his worth, his capacity to rule. So for next year, he has no reason to feel insecure anymore," he said.
Vaccines could also be a "friendship test" of ties developed by President Duterte with nations developing sought-after drugs such as China and Russia, according to analyst Casiple.
Immunization czar Carlito Galvez Jr. had said China's Sinovac and Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccines could be available in the Philippines in the first quarter of 2021. Vaccines from Western nations could follow suit.
But even if the Philippines gets its hands on vaccines, persuading the public to get jabbed is another hurdle.
New mother Sendon for instance said she wouldn't seek COVID-19 vaccination for herself or her baby even if the drugs become available to the Philippines by next year.
"We don't want to quickly get vaccinated even if vaccines become available next year. I want to make sure that it's safe first for me and my family," she said. "We might wait it out."
The Philippines' tycoons have placed an advance order for at least three million doses of Astra Zeneca's vaccine, underscoring the need to start an immunization drive to restore confidence in the economy.
Business and public transport remains limited, albeit less curtailed at the height of the lockdown last March. The economy contracted less in the third quarter compared to the second quarter. There were fewer jobless Filipinos in October. Still, the recovery is not as pronounced as the rest of Southeast Asia.