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Local Roundup: Red Cross to roll out lower-cost saliva virus test

The Philippine Red Cross will be rolling out the saliva test for COVID-19 detection in the country at a lower cost, its chairman Senator Richard Gordon has said.

“We submitted it about a month and a half ago to the DOH (Department of Health). Now it’s in the hands of the Health Technology Assessment Council composed of doctors, medical doctors who already approve of it and scientists,” Gordon said in a report on GMA News.

“But let me tell you, there must be a sense of urgency there. Imagine that is already being used in Japan and Singapore,” Gordon said Tuesday.

Gordon said a go-signal from the government experts was still being awaited.

More poor people and workers would be tested through this cheaper test which was estimated to cost P2,000 each, according to Gordon.

The price is P1,500 lower compared to the P3,500 swab test conducted by the humanitarian organization.

“They will no longer need the personal protective equipment unless they go to the lab. They will just spit on the vial and they will give it to us already for testing,” he added.

The PRC will have to buy some equipment worth $15,000 for every laboratory that will process the saliva samples.

On Tuesday night, PhilHealth announced that it already released P500 million as partial payment to the PRC and vowed to expedite the release of the remaining balance.

COVID tally

The Philippines’ COVID-19 infections breached the 375,000-mark on Wednesday as the Department of Health recorded 2,053 additional cases.

Based on its latest bulletin, the DOH said the total number of COVID-19 cases in the country reached 375,180, of which, 38,955, or 10.4 percent, were active.

Of the newly-announced infections, 108 are from Caloocan City, 103 are from Quezon City, 97 are from Negros Occidental, 93 are from Benguet, and 85 are from Rizal.

The DOH reported 540 additional recovered patients bringing the total to 329,111.

The DOH reported 61 new COVID-related deaths, bringing the death toll to 7,114.

Robredo negative

Vice President Leni Robredo and her entire staff have tested negative for COVID-19.

“All of the OVP staff who were exposed last week tested negative. Thank God. All the activities today and the succeeding days will proceed as scheduled,” Robredo’s Facebook post read.

“Thank you all for your prayers and well wishes. They are very much appreciated,” she said.

Last week, Robredo and her staff went through a self-quarantine after exposure to a COVID-19 patient on Oct. 22.

All of them took the swab test.

Rise in cases

The Department of Health is preparing for a possible increase in COVID-19 cases as restrictions in public transport are being relaxed, particularly on the number of passengers allowed, Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said.

Vergeire’s statement was in response to the October 26 findings of the OCTA Research Group indicating that the easing of social distancing measures in public transport could in the next two weeks trigger an increase in new COVID-19 cases in the National Capital Region—the epicenter of coronavirus infection.

Vergeire said, “We have been saying that the virus will stay here for long but at the same time, we cannot remain in lockdown forever and paralyzed with fear.”

Vergeire said that easing restrictions should go along with being vigilant and strict observance of minimum health standards such as the washing of hands, social distancing as well as wearing of face masks or face shields.

Rapid response

The United Nations in the Philippines announced on Wednesday its mobilization of some P1.4 billion through 150 COVID-19 rapid-response activities being implemented by 20 UN agencies throughout the country.

Gustavo Gonzalez, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in the Philippines, said in a statement the world body has moved swiftly to support the government-led effort to contain COVID-19 and limit its socioeconomic impact.

“Our support combines the reorientation of existing interventions to cope with the crisis, the implementation of timely impact assessments as well as technical assistance and in-kind support to national, regional and community partners,” Gonzalez said.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said the government acknowledged the UN’s immediate support to the COVID-19 response in the Philippines.

Vaccine trials

The DOH has said it is working to expand the number of participants to be recruited for the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials.

Earlier this month, the WHO said while the Philippines already pledged 2,000 to 3,000 participants for the multi-country Solidarity Trial, the international health organization was hoping it could be increased to 4,000.

This is to allow them to reach the target number of participants from across the world, helping raise chances they could establish evidence of the safety and efficacy of the vaccines faster.

Besides the WHO Solidarity Trial, which will involve the testing of several candidate vaccines, the country is still negotiating with pharmaceutical companies, she said.

Cold chain facility

Meanwhile, those using current platforms only need a cold chain facility which are already in place in the country for existing immunization programs.

Sinovac’s vaccine uses an inactivated virus, which has traditionally been used for other illnesses.

The health official assured the public that the government is planning the storage of vaccines for different regions.

The DOH also explained that the plans to set up fill-and-finish facilities in the country is a medium-term plan that won’t happen this year or even next year.

While it will take years for the country to manufacture vaccines, fill-and-finish facilities would allow the repackaging of the vaccines in vials for distribution.

Benguet cases

The DOH will be looking into how health standards are being implemented in mine sites after at least two companies were forced to halt operations due to an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual briefing on Wednesday health standards were the same for mine sites although there was a higher risk because employees were inside an enclosed space, which may result in the virus staying longer in the air.

Among the companies forced to suspend operations were Apex Mining Co. and Philex Mining.

According to Apex Mining, its Sangilo mine in Itogon, Benguet is included in the localized lockdown of Barangay Poblacion issued on October 23.

Philex Mining

Meanwhile, Philex Mining Corporation said it partially resumed underground operations at 50 percent capacity after the temporary suspension in its Padcal mine site.

The company said it earlier tested 1,425 employees and dependents and 151 turned out positive for COVID-19. Eight of those have already recovered.

“Most of the active cases were employees from underground operations and Management has continued to strictly implement minimum health standards as well as occupational health and safety protocols with the resumption of mine operations. This same level of adherence and enforcement is likewise being implemented in surface operations,” the company said.

It also assured the public that contact tracing was being done while it housed infected employees in a quarantine facility within the site.

Unregistered vaccines

The Food and Drug Administration is monitoring a facility in Makati City where unregistered COVID-19 vaccine products are allegedly being sold, FDA director-general Eric Domingo said.

Domingo, during a Palace briefing on Tuesday, said the FDA received a report that the facility was selling COVID-19 vaccines with advertisements written in Chinese.

Currently, the Department of Science and Technology said at least three potential vaccines against COVID-19 were set to have clinical trials in the Philippines.

Philippine Council for Health Research Development executive director Dr. Jaime Montoya said the manufacturers had applied with the FDA.

Topics: Philippine Red Cross , COVID-19 , Richard Gordon , Department of Health
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