By Deighton Acuin

PHOTO: Presidential Communications

Having spent nearly one year under quarantine due to COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines may have to wait until the first or second quarter of year 2023 before getting back to normalcy, President Rodrigo Duterte said Sunday.

Speaking in a press briefing, Duterte said the country will fast-track its vaccination program after the arrival of donated 600,000 vaccine doses from China-based Sinovac Biotech.

"In about maybe early year [2023,] not in [2022]. Ito ngayon hanggang katapusan ng buwan, paspasan tayo. Early in the first maybe first or second quarter of year 2-3, 2023, baka, tulong ng Diyos," he said.

In the same conference, Duterte said the country is expected to have herd immunity against COVID-19 in early 2022, then admitted he has “inadequate and incomplete” knowledge with the matter.

The President added the country’s herd immunity will be difficult due to being archipelagic, as well as the apprehension to get immunized against the infectious disease.

"Ang herd immunity para sa akin personally, mas maganda kung contiguous ang territory because you only have to do a circle, paliit nang paliit, paliit nang paliit hanggang towards the center of gravity," he said.

The Chief Executive also noted not all individuals would opt to get vaccinated, which would hinder achieving herd immunity or when a large part of an area was immune against the disease.

"We have to take into account the freedom of an individual on what happens to his body. Nobody but nobody can tinker with him human life kung hindi siya," said the president, who led a bloody campaign against illegal drugs which has claimed the lives of thousands.

"Kung ayaw niya, that makes it doubly hard for us but that is also one which we have to take into account in dealing with the problem of COVID-19," he elaborated.

However, Duterte did not mention any source and said his statements were based on the articles he read.

"If you ask a doctor he would give you the same answer. Maybe, maybe not, I'm wrong, pero sabi ko, 'yun lang nabasa ko, what I've red from the national magazine. I must confess my incomplete and inadequate knowledge dito sa bahay na 'to," he said.

The Philippines on Sunday afternoon received the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines, making it the last country in the ASEAN region to provide vaccinations for its residents. The first shots are scheduled to be inoculated in several hospitals across Metro Manila on Monday, March 1, 2020.