PH nearing ‘red line’ in fight vs virus: WHO

    Kasai (Photo from WHO)

    THE coronavirus disease (COVID-19) trend in the Philippines is advancing towards the “red line,” the World Health Organization (WHO) warned yesterday, as it fretted over the continued surge in cases amid the stricter lockdown imposed in the NCR Plus bubble.

    In a virtual press briefing, WHO Western Pacific Regional Director Dr. Takeshi Kasai said they are “concerned about the situation in the Philippines” because “the surge is really continuing.”

    The sustained upward trend, according to Kasai, is bringing the country closer to the red line, or the instance when the number of cases already exceed the capacity of the healthcare system,

    “We know that once we cross that red line, we put healthcare workers in a very difficult situation. Once the healthcare workers start to get infection, the healthcare capacity goes down and, ironically, that is the time more and more people need some help,” Kasai said.

    “There are consequences. It is very important to avoid this red line,” he added.

    The Philippines has seen record-setting number of new COVID-19 cases in recent days.

    Yesterday, the Department of Health reported 6,414 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the nationwide tally to 819,164, while total recoveries climbed to 646,404 with 163 new ones. Patients who have died due to COVID-19 was recorded at 242. On Tuesday, the country reported a record-high 382 new deaths.

    Kasai called on the Philippine government to address its healthcare system woes to stop the trend.

    “We really encourage government to continue to improve the healthcare capacity, including setting up intermediate facilities to accommodate mild and moderate cases. This is so that ICU (intensive care unit) beds that are used to provide services to the severe cases can be secured for those people,” said Kasai.

    He likewise pushed government to strengthen its contact tracing system, pursue its bio-surveillance system, and ensure the effective use of COVID-19 vaccines.

    The Department of Health has said that it is looking to decongest hospitals by as much as 40 percent by having mild and asymptomatic patients transferred to other facilities.

    It likewise said it will open more temporary treatment and monitoring facilities in Metro Manila in coordination with local government units.

    Public Works Secretary Mark Villar has said that while the national hospital occupancy rate remains at a manageable 50 percent, those in Metro Manila are already at 75 percent occupancy which is not considered ideal.

    Kasai appealed to the general public to strictly adhere to the established health protocols.

    “We really want to encourage every individual to keep practicing the minimum preventive measures, such as washing hands, wearing mask, physical distancing, and, if you have some symptoms, seek local authorities’ guidance. These measures are effective even to the variants of concern,” Kasai said.

    Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said results of saliva-based tests will now be included in the DOH’s daily case bulletin.

    In a virtual press briefing, Vergeire said saliva-based test results will be officially counted since “it is also RT-PCR. The only difference is the specimen used.”

    Vergeire said this has been the practice since the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) was first allowed to utilize saliva-based testing earlier this year.

    Back in late January, the DOH approved the PRC’s application of the use of saliva testing to detect COVID-19 cases. This allowed the Red Cross to use saliva testing in all its molecular laboratories in the country.

    Recently, the DOH issued guidelines for the use of the saliva-based tests in other accredited COVID-19 laboratories in the country.

    Under the saliva-based testing, instead of having a swab inserted into one’s nostrils and throat, individuals are simply required to deposit 1.5 ml to 2 ml of saliva through a straw into a container.

    Asked if the public will now be given a choice which test to undertake, Vergeire answered in the affirmative.

    “If you go to a laboratory offering both, that’s your choice. You’re the one paying for it anyways,” said Vergeire.

    At the same time, Vergeire appealed to oxygen tank suppliers not to indiscriminately sell their goods to households. “We encourage our suppliers to regulate their sales of oxygen tanks and make sure that it will primarily be made available to hospitals,” she said.

    She said this is because they are concerned that recent reports of households getting their own stock of oxygen tanks may hamper the supply needed in medical facilities.

    “It may result to the depletion of supplies needed by the hospitals since they compete with households,” said Vergeire.

    On the other, the health official warned the general public against haphazardly using oxygen tanks once they feel they have symptoms of COVID-19.

    “If you are not sick and do not have any respiratory difficulties, it may even harm you. Too much oxygen may affect breathing process. This is not rationale,” said Vergeire.

    She, however, said household use of oxygen tanks may be permitted as long as it is recommended by doctors.

    “To the public, you can call your doctors, and if they advise you that you need it, that’s the time you get one,” said Vergeire, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated global demand for oxygen supplies, including the Philippines.