Coronavirus response ramped up

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    DILG Secretary Eduardo Año. (Photo file from the PNA)

    By Victor Reyes and Gerard Naval

    INTERIOR Secretary Eduardo Año has ordered local government units in Metro Manila to establish their Local COVID-19 Task Forces “to aid in monitoring and preventing the spread of the disease in communities,” adding local transmission of the coronavirus is “the last thing we want to happen.”

    Año issued the order after President Duterte on Saturday approved the recommendation of the Department of Health to declare a state of public health emergency following the confirmed local transmission and increased number of new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country.

    Malacañang, meanwhile, said government is preparing the more than P2 billion supplemental budget to support efforts to control and prevent the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

    Last Friday, the DOH reported that a 62-year-old Filipino male with no known history of travel outside the country has tested positive for the virus that has killed more than 3,400 people worldwide, spreading across more than 90 nations outside China, where it originated.

    DOH Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire yesterday said the man, the country’s 5th case, remains in a “guarded condition” and has been transferred to another referral hospital of the government where he is set to undergo a medical procedure.

    “He was transferred to another referral hospital because there is a procedure he needs to undergo that cannot be done in the first referral hospital,” said Vergeire. “He is stable although in a guarded condition.”

    The patient, who has hypertension and diabetes, experienced coughing with phlegm last February 25. He sought medical help at a hospital in Metro Manila last March 1 due to severe pneumonia and was subsequently referred to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

    His specimen was collected on March 4 and was tested positive for COVID-19 on March 5.

    Last Saturday, the DOH said the patient was also found to have an acute kidney injury.

    The patient’s 59-year-old wife, the sixth confirmed case, was found to be positive of COVID-19 last Saturday and was admitted at the RITM on March 5.

    “Case number 6 is stable and remains at our referral hospital,” said Vergeire.

    The country’s fourth confirmed case, a 48-year-old male with a travel history to Tokyo, Japan, remains in a stable condition.

    “He is well and is being monitored at the referral hospital,” said Vergeire.

    The first three COVID-19 cases in the country involved Chinese tourists. One of the three has died in the country, while the two others have returned to China.

    Vergeire said they have formed teams to trace the close contacts of the three new COVID-19 cases. She said the contact tracing activities will include the families of the three cases as well as other contacts at work or in transit.

    “The children of the 5th and 6th cases, for example, have been told to undergo home quarantine. We already got their specimens and are just waiting for the laboratory test results,” Vergeire said.

    Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the DOH Epidemiology Bureau, Centers for Health Development, and City Health Offices are establishing travel history and identification of individuals who might have had contact with the positive cases.

    He added that all identified contacts will be interviewed and assessed for signs of respiratory illness, with those symptomatic individuals found to have had close contact with the confirmed cases to be prioritized for testing.

    TASK FORCES

    Año said the task forces, among others, are tasked to coordinate the transport of symptomatic persons to the nearest DOH referral facility for COVID-19 testing.

    Año said the task forces will be on top of all situations and concerns related to COVID-19, and coordinate closely with the DOH.

    “It is only through cooperation and vigilance can we guarantee that this virus will not be a greater threat in our country, that is why I expect the LGUs coordination to other government agencies, especially DOH,” he said.

    Año also disclosed that 25,411 barangays or 60 percent of the total barangays nationwide have already organized their respective Barangay Health Emergency Response Team “which can aid in controling further community transmissions of COVID-19 in the barangays.”

    The World Health Organization, meanwhile, is asking Filipinos to remain rationale in facing the threat of the disease.

    WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said the local transmission of the virus should not be a signal for Filipinos that they should all come out and get tested.

    “We urge you to still be rational and not demand that every single respiratory tract infection need to be checked for COVID-19,” said Abeyasinghe. “That is not a possibility for any country.”

    Senators asked the Department of Health to be more transparent to the public now that President Duterte agreed to issue a declaration of state of public health emergency.

    Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said RA 11332 or the law requiring the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and health Events of Public Health Concern Act” compels the health department for a mandatory reporting on the matter.

    He said under that law, the DOH has the authority to declare an epidemic of national concern like the COVID-19 but the President may only declare a public health emergency when COVID-19 becomes a threat to national security.

    Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said an executive order is expected to be released today, Monday, for the supplemental budget.
    Panelo, in a radio interview, assured the public that the government has funds to support its campaign to control the spread of the COV-19 and the supplemental budget is now being readied.

    Congress, however, has yet to pass the P2.25 billion supplemental budget into law which would be used mostly for the procurement of needed gears and kits like the surgical masks and test kits that would be used by the healthcare workers.

    Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said public health should take precedence over any other concern in light of the local transmission of the novel coronavirus.

    Guevarra issued the statement when sought for comment on what would be his possession for today’s meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases. – With Raymond Africa, Jocelyn Montemayor, and Ashzel Hachero