PASIG CITY — In the face of the continued rise in COVID-19 cases across the country, the government’s top anti-COVID task force officials emphasized the urgency of protecting the nation’s health system, national and local government services and people’s participation with the private sector institutions.

This developed as the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) approved over the weekend the proposal to move up select local chief executives in high and critical risk provinces, cities, and municipalities under priority group A1.5 of the vaccine priority list, along with healthcare workers.

National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 chairperson Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Sunday, April 4, that the national government’s efforts are now focused on ensuring that members of these key sectors will be among the first to get the jab.

“Given the current health situation our country is confronting right now, there is a need for our local government officials to be inoculated as soon as possible in line with our multi-pronged COVID-19 containment strategy,” Lorenzana said.

IATF Chairperson Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III explained that aside from prioritizing the nation’s health care workers, attention must also be given to local chief executives performing essential frontline functions in the nation’s battle against COVID-19.

“We recognize that our LCEs also perform essential functions in the pandemic which place them at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Given this, the IATF has recommended to the President that select local government officials be included in the A1 category as we need them to continue being able to perform their critical functions amid the surge in cases. Their inoculation, of course, will take into consideration the associated risk with performing their functions—such as if they are in high or critical-risk areas—and will still be dependent on availability of vaccine supplies,” Sec. Duque said.

NTF COVID-19 Deputy Chief Implementer and Testing Czar Vince Dizon, said they have received a letter from the League of Provinces of the Philippines sent through the President requesting to allow local chief executives in critical or high-risk areas to be inoculated.

Dizon said the letter was sent to him by Senator Bong Go.

Dizon then presented the recommendation to the IATF, which was supported by Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr, and Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Benhur Abalos.

“The local executives are our commanders battling COVID-19 in the frontlines. We need to protect them,” Dizon said.

Recently, several mayors have tested positive for COVID-19 in NCR and in neighboring provinces.

Dizon added that as the national government ramps up testing in the NCR Plus bubble, the NTF is looking at ways on how it can also further accelerate the implementation of the nation’s vaccine program.

“Based on our consultations with the LGUs and the private sector, we saw the need to re-calibrate our inoculation strategy that it is more attuned to emerging realities on the ground, and we can do this by prioritizing local chief executives in critical zones,” Dizon said.

He, however, said that local officials must follow the DOH’s current vaccination guidelines wherein senior officials citizens will get the AstraZeneca vaccine while non-senior citizens will receive the Sinovac jab.

Meanwhile, Galvez, who is the NTF COVID-19 Chief Implementer and Vaccine Czar, underscored the importance of safeguarding the health and welfare of the “trinity of war” – health, government and private sector – in the nation’s fight against the disease.

“This trinity of war is the reason why the nation has been able to confront head on the challenges brought about by the pandemic. The national government must therefore do everything to ensure their health and safety,” Galvez said.

The Vaccine Czar noted that around 10 governors have been infected by the virus, while a number of mayors throughout the country have caught the disease during the course of carrying out their duty.

“We would like to emphasize that this is not privileged access. Since the start of the pandemic, these LGUs have been at the forefront in the government’s efforts to boost the nation’s COVID-19 response and mitigation efforts,” Galvez said.

On the other hand, he said that the country’s private sector has provided much needed donation and resources, allowing the government to scale up the country’s testing, contact tracing and treatment capacity, as well as help fast track the nation’s inoculation program.

Galvez explained that the “trinity of war” concept is anchored on the Duterte Administration’s commitment of protecting the nation’s most vulnerable sectors such as the poor and senior citizens.

“The country’s health, local government and private sectors all aim to serve the needs of the Filipino people. If any of these sectors gets overwhelmed, it will become more difficult for our nation to recover from this pandemic,” he said.

Galvez also stressed the importance of leadership in the fight against COVID-19, which is being provided by the local chief executives who are risking their lives so that they respond to the needs of their constituents.

“Our LGUs, as well as our economic frontliners are among the nation’s unsung heroes. As our health care workers battle the pandemic, our local chief executives and essential workers are making sure that Filipinos continue to have access to vital services,” he said.

“Leaders provide direction and inspiration to their constituents and the need for them to be protected is a must to sustain the fight against this dreaded virus,” he added.

Galvez extended his greetings to the Catholic faithful who are celebrating Easter Sunday, as he likewise reminded them to continue observing minimum health standards and community quarantine protocols.

“We urge our countrymen to continue supporting our health workers, preserve the integrity of government institutions and patronize the private sector in our fight against this invisible enemy. Together we must muster our strong solidarity in supporting each other to win this battle,” he said.

“There is no other way we can bring down the number of COVID-19 cases in the country except through the strict observance of health standards and protocols. This remains the best way to protect yourselves from being infected as you wait your turn to be vaccinated,” Galvez said.

Galvez thanked President Rodrigo Duterte for approving their recommendations to prioritize the inoculation of the concerned local chief executives. He also expressed his gratitude to Senator Bong Go for facilitating the request. ###