‘COVID response unlike Yolanda’

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque maintained Monday the government’s COVID-19 response was and would not be disastrous amid hospital shortage and surge in COVID-19 13 months after the pandemic.

Roque was responding to the comments made by Dr. Aileen Espina—the national director of the Philippine Academy of Family Physicians and member of the Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19.

Espina said: “The weaknesses in the system are the very same things I saw during typhoon Yolanda in 2013. At least Yolanda was over in five hours. This has been ongoing for a year, cases will go down, we relax, without addressing the root cause of the surge.”

But Roque told a Palace briefing: “Let us not bring back the skeletons of the Liberal Party that is Yolanda. That is a disaster. We won’t go back with such a disastrous government response..”

He was referring to the now opposition political party, the ruling party during the Yolanda typhoon.

Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega, for his part, said that the two-week-long enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and adjacent provinces Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal—dubbed as NCR Plus enabled the public and private hospitals to set aside over 1,000 additional beds for COVID-19 patients.

Vega said that of the 1,042 COVID-19 beds in public and private hospitals, 960 are in the National Center for Mental Health while the 142 were beds under Intensive Care Unit setting.

“From 75 percent health care utilization rate in the National Capital Region, it could go down to 58 percent which is a low risk category,” Veg said during the Place briefing. 'Changes needed'

Meanwhile, a group of health professionals has demanded changes to the government's COVID-19 response in order to prevent a "vicious cycle" of surge in infections, as well hunger among the Filipino public and economic recession.

The Healthcare Professionals Alliance against COVID-19, in a statement on Facebook, excoriated the government for "still (having) no clear plans and efforts to fix the root causes" of the problems caused by the pandemic.

The group said the government had resorted to extending the strict lockdown without clear plans to decrease community transmission.

"The government still has no clear plans and efforts to fix the root causes, and the nation continues to suffer because of this. This ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) may have slowed down the spread, but the numbers are still perilously high," HPAAC said.

Data sharing

The HPAAC urged lawmakers to create a measure that would "compel data sharing" through Information and Communications Technology infrastructure, as they said there are inconsistencies in digital contact tracing which affects quarantine of contacts.

"Interoperability of existing digital solutions is saddled by bureaucratic red tape and conflicts of interest. Our demand: pass an enabling law that will compel data sharing through an integrated ICT infrastructure," they said.

The HPAAC demanded to enforce Apat Dapat in all government agencies, public transport, private workplaces, business establishments and other public spaces. Apat Dapat means air circulation, ventilation, physical distancing, wearing of face masks and face shield, and limiting time interaction of 30 minutes or less.

They also called on the government to recalibrate its target for vaccine distribution to avoid overcrowding at inoculation centers.

Rapid antigen

A legislator from the Bicol region called on the government to complement its stricter mobility restrictions with an aggressive T3—test, trace and treat—drive as a more decisive strategy to contain the latest surge in coronavirus infections.

Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte said this while the government awaited the arrival of the bulk of the ordered anti-virus jabs for its vaccine rollout plan.

Villafuerte said “a more aggressive T3 drive alone is our best shot at preventing future infection surges, especially with the advent of more transmissible Covid-19 variants.”

At the same time, Villafuerte welcomed the new government target of conducting 90,000 to 100,000 Covid-19 tests per day via the combined use of reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and rapid antigen tests.

World Bank report

Villafuerte stressed the urgency for the government to ramp up its mass testing as he pointed to a recent World Bank assessment report that the Philippines' reliance on long lockdowns in lieu of a test-based strategy at the onset of the pandemic was responsible for the continued economic slowdown at a time when other economies in the region have started to recover.

The World Bank report revealed that the Philippines had conducted only 17 tests per confirmed Covid-19 case, as against 4,277 tests in Vietnam; 2,080 in Laos; 1,853 in  China; 897 in Cambodia and 244 in Malaysia

The same report said that because of mass testing,  lockdowns were not as severe in these economies, and gross domestic product growth was at 2.9 percent in Vietnam, 2.3 percent in China, 0.4 percent in Laos, minus 3.1 percent in Cambodia, and minus 5.6 percent in Malaysia in 2020. The Philippines posted a GDP growth of minus 9.5 percent last year.

Rapid antigen testing is a relatively inexpensive test in both point-of-care and laboratory settings to detect the SARS-CoV02 virus that is responsible for Covid-19. Test results are available in about 15 minutes, compared to the costlier real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) whose turnaround time usually takes 2-3 days.

Local airlines

Major local airlines assured the public Monday they would continue operating commercial flights during the implementation of the modified enhance community quarantine status.

The Philippine government, through the Inter Agency Task Force, placed Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite, and Laguna (or the NCR Plus) under MECQ from April 12 to 30, 2021 when only essential travel is allowed in and out of Manila.

"Philippine Airlines shall continue to operate domestic flights between Manila, Cebu and Davao and other regions of the country, subject to restrictions and requirements of the IATF (Inter-Agency

Task Force) and the concerned local government units for each route," stated PAL in its travel advisory.

The Cebu Pacific Air, meanwhile, stated it would continue to operate its domestic and international flights as scheduled during the MECQ status enforced in the NCR plus.

But for CEB clients who wish to postpone their flights and those traveling for non-essential reasons, the airline is offering them their preferred option through the Manage Booking portal on the Cebu Pacific website ( up to two hours before their scheduled time of departure.

'Acting on reflex'

Meanwhile, Sen. Imee Marcos said “we keep acting on reflex. It’s not the lockdown category that’s important. We know that the ECQ doesn’t work, even after a year of suffering.”

"We should support the health system through these medical approaches, and ramp up the construction, provision, and upgrade of isolation and other emergency wards," she said.

Sen. Joel Villanueva said that regardless of the quarantine classification, Filipinos needed to see a significant change in policy.

"We need to decongest our hospitals and upgrade (their) capacity to take care of the sick. We’ll never go wrong in capacitating our hospitals," he said.

Topics: Harry Roque , COVID-19 response , pandemic , Yolanda typhoon , Leopoldo Vega
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