The Department of Health (DOH) clarified on Friday that the quarantine and isolation period can be longer than the minimum required.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire’s statement was made after the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) urged the DOH to reconsider its new policy cutting the quarantine period for the general public as they do not have access to tight-fitting face masks.
“We said in our policy, it’s a minimum of seven days, so maybe seven to 10 days, depending on the symptoms, depending on the situation in the area,” Vergeire said at a Palace briefing.
Under the new policy, the isolation period for fully vaccinated probable cases with symptoms, mild cases, and asymptomatic cases will be reduced from 10 days to seven days from the onset of symptoms or from the positive swab result.
The quarantine period for fully vaccinated close contact of a COVID-19 patient would be shortened to five days from the previous seven days.
Vergeire said the new policy provides uniformity and can be seen as a general principle.
Answering the concern of the group that infected individuals might still transmit the virus six to 10 days from onset of symptoms, Vergeire said the virus load drops within three to six days after infection.
“An infected person, specifically right now, especially if you are having the Omicron variant, it takes three to six days and then the virus load goes down,” she said.
She said compliance with minimum public health standards must still be followed amid the shortened isolation period.
“You still need to continue to practice your minimum public health standards and that includes wearing your face masks all the time. And that should be appropriately fitted,” she said.
But a group of nurses on Thursday opposed the shortened isolation and quarantine periods for fully vaccinated health workers infected with or exposed to COVID-19, urging the government to ensure their safety and protection.
In an ANC interview, Filipino Nurses United (FNU) secretary-general Jocelyn Andamo expressed concern over the approval of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) of the shortening of quarantine protocols of the fully vaccinated health care workers to five days.
The IATF decided on the new protocols following hospitals’ concerns about being short-staffed amid the rising COVID-19 infections.
“We could see that this is not safe for the health and safety of the nurses and other health care workers, and of course our families because we can still transmit the virus to them,” Andamo said.
Over the weekend, FNU decried the government’s “chaotic” pandemic response, saying that the rise in cases shows the “ineptness and lack of preparedness by the government to handle the current health crisis despite having been in this pandemic for two years now.”
Andamo said that they already worry about the welfare of the health care workers, with many already having been diagnosed with COVID-19.
At Philippine General Hospital alone, about 1,100 health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19, a spokesman said on Friday.
In an interview on ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo, PGH spokesman Dr. Jonas del Rosario said the hospital currently has 314 COVID-19 patients, exceeding PGH’s 300-bed capacity for COVID patients.
Del Rosario noted that since Jan. 1, “at least 1,100 health workers have been COVID positive.”
Andamo added that many health workers have decided to leave their professions or the country due to lack of aid from the government.
Coalition for People’s Right to Health co-convenor Dr. Joshua San Pedro said the government should release the data showing the scientific basis for shortening the quarantine period.
“Given the changes in the policy, we still have to see the evidence on what is really the basis for decreasing that period in order for us to assure our patients that they’re no longer infectious at the end of the shortened quarantine or isolation period,” San Pedro said.
Some data still show that COVID-19 patients can infect others even after their fifth day in quarantine, San Pedro said.
“So this aspect of reducing it to seven days is based on a notion of an acceptable risk. So, how many, what was the percentage of the population that is less likely to be able to infect at the end of that time?” he said.
“And we have research showing that there is a significant decrease by the seventh day but it is still not zero, it’s still not even less than 5 percent,” he said.
Meanwhile, quarantine and testing rules for persons arriving from abroad have also been changed. Inbound passengers are now required to get a swab test 48 hours before their departure for the Philippines instead of the previous 72 hours.
But results of RT-PCR tests taken 72 hours before departure will still be honored until Jan. 19, said acting presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has also allowed quarantine hotels to function as isolation facilities for those who test positive for COVID-19.
The announcement comes after returning Filipinos complained about the slow transfer from a quarantine area to an isolation facility.
Now, Nograles said, the same hotel or building can now function as both a quarantine area and an isolation facility,