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Mayor Zamora talks about how San Juan City coped after being ground zero of the pandemic

By CHUCK SMITH Published Apr 28, 2021 10:23 pm

As the first city in the Philippines to report a local transmission of COVID-19, San Juan was put in a tight spot early on and had to make a number of hard choices such as closing down the business district where the infection happened. But being first also compelled the city to innovate and put up safety mechanisms much earlier.

During PhilSTAR Life’s Let’s Talk COVID-19 livestream on Wednesday, April 28, San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora shared their city’s experience in dealing with COVID-19 and its ongoing vaccination program.

First confirmed case

As the city that reported the first local transmission of COVID-19 in the country, Zamora said they had to act fast in implementing protocols for the safety of its citizens—at a time when the safety and health protocols we follow and know today were not yet commonplace.

This also allowed the city to set up a tracing, isolation, testing, and treatment program early on.

Zamora said their tracing team includes people with “investigative background” from the police, fire department, and the city health departments.

They conduct 800 to 1000 swab tests a day as part of their targeted mass testing program. COVID-19 patients with mild to moderate symptoms also get an incentive of P3,000 if they choose to stay at their isolation facilities, to prevent household transmissions.

San Juan City also opened a “Kalinga Center”—a public school building that was turned into a 139-bed facility—to serve as an isolation center. Earlier this year, they turned San Juan National High School into their second quarantine facility.

“Meron din tayong mga sinet up na container vans. Ito yung mga separate na facilities within the perimeter of the hospital upang makadagdag sa facility,” Zamora said.

Vaccine hesitancy

Zamora said he was among those who appealed to health secretary Francisco Duque to allow city mayors to be part of the priority group, along with the health workers, to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Sa totoo po, kaming mga mayor, kami po ay umiikot araw-araw. Ako po, for instance, I inspect all barangays every single day,” he said. “That’s my personal management style. Kailangan ko talagang makita what is happening. Hindi pwedeng mayor na nakaupo ka lang sa opisina.”

He received his first dose of China’s Sinovac vaccine on April 16. In March, he contracted COVID-19.

His appeal to be inoculated, he said, was part of his plan to encourage hesitant constituents to receive the jab.

“How will I convince my constituents to get vaccinated when I myself am not vaccinated? Parang wala akong karapatan na manghikayat kung hindi ko naman naranasan mabakunahan,” Zamora explained.

More than 10,000 San Juan City residents have received the vaccine as of April 28.

San Juan City’s target is to inoculate at least 85,000 people with the COVID-19 jab. The city—the country’s smallest in terms of land area—has a population of over 120,000.

“Hindi po ako tumitigil sa paghihikayat sa ating mga mamamayan na magpabakuna. In fact, a lot of it has to be through education. Kailangan talaga, we have to inform and educate our constituents na dapat wala silang ikatakot,” Zamora said.

600 to 800 a day

The schedule of the vaccinations, however, depends on the supply.

The city purchased 100,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which they expect to arrive in June or July. The vaccine doses they have used so far all came from the supply procured by the national government. 

Like most cities, San Juan City’s vaccination registration for residents is done online. For people without internet cases, the LGU has an on-ground, house-to-house vaccination registration campaign.

“Yung ibang hindi namin maabot sa house-to-house, their family members can register them manually sa ating barangay hall,” he said.

Their program allows them to vaccinate 600 to 800 residents a day. The city has prepared five vaccination sites, though only the San Juan Arena is being utilized now. Once additional supply arrives, Zamora said they are prepared to vaccinate more people per day.


Right now, San Juan City is only administering Sinovac's CoronaVac since they remain reliant on the doses given by the national government.

“We can be choosy for as long as we have supply,” Zamora said, adding that residents can have a choice between Sinovac and AstraZenaca once the supply for the latter arrives.

He also added, “Logistically speaking, we are ready. Except that the vaccines are not yet here.”

“Para sa akin, itong vaccine mismo ang game-changer,” Zamora said on his learnings from dealing with COVID-19. “Ibig sabihin, kapag nakamit natin ang majority ng ating mamamayan ay nabakunahan na, ibig sabihin nito ay majority ng ating mga mamamayan ay mabibigyan ng proteksyon.”

“We need to vaccinate our population. Sa ngayon, talagang wala pang supply. Pero darating yan sa mga darating na buwan. Ngayon, habang di pa yan nangyayari, yung minimum health standards po.”

“Kapit lang talaga. Alam kong mahirap. Ngunit huwag tayong bibitaw dahil darating din yung panahon na babalik din tayo sa normal,” he ended.