President Rodrigo Duterte has approved in principle the P2.25-billion budget for the purchase of personal protective equipment for 5,000 health care workers so they will not be infected by the novel coronavirus (nCoV), Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Tuesday.
“This is going to be on the assumption that this will last for 90 days or three months, multiplied by three shifts because the care will have to be round the clock,” Duque told the Senate committee on health’s hearing on the country’s preparedness for the nCoV outbreak, which claimed its first fatality in the Philippines over the weekend.
Each set of equipment—which includes goggles, masks, gloves, headgear, and apron—costs P1,500.
Duque also said Duterte also approved the procurement of P10 million worth of surgical masks as part of the government’s bid to contain the virus.
The Health chief also said the President wanted isolation rooms in both public and private hospitals should there be more persons who are infected.
Duque further said the President also wanted transport vehicles solely dedicated to nCoV patients.
He said Duterte highlighted the need to scale up diagnostic capabilities of the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine as well as all laboratories of private hospitals for the testing of the coronavirus.
The President on Monday night held an emergency meeting with top government officials, including the World Health Organization, to discuss measures to contain the deadly virus.
WHO Country Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe reminded the public that the use of surgical masks by the general public is not recommended amid fears that the virus would spread in the Philippines.
Speaking in the same Senate hearing, Abeyasinghe said that they do not “see the benefit of masks to be used by general public.”
“People who are having respiratory symptoms or who are in crowded places could be wearing those masks. But it would be preferable to reserve those masks for high-risk individuals and health workers,” he said.
Senator Richard J. Gordon proposed stockpiling on strategic medical supplies to ensure adequate supply in the country to survive epidemics or pandemics caused by emerging and re-emerging diseases such as the novel coronavirus.
Gordon, chairman and CEO of the Philippine Red Cross, said the government could also encourage local investors to venture into the production of medical supplies such as face masks, medical gowns and other protective gear to ensure that the high demand for them, during public health emergencies, would be met.
Gordon said this would ensure that there would be an adequate supply of food, medicine, vaccines, and other necessary supplies to tide them over until the emergency ends.
“We should also invest in warehouses in strategic areas across the country where they could be prepositioned,” he said during the committee hearing.
The Red Cross maintains warehouses in different parts of the country where stockpiles of food and non-food items such as face masks, gloves, other personal protective gear, sleeping kits and hygiene kits along with response vehicles are prepositioned for easier mobilization.
As of Tuesday, the death toll from the outbreak climbed to 425 in China, with the total number of infections pegged at 20,438.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, meanwhile, said two million face masks will be made available to health workers and the public in a month.
He told the Senate hearing the masks would come from a supplier in Bataan that has been in the business for four decades.
“They committed to supply 100,000 masks to be delivered today, to give to DOH (Department of Health) because they are the ones in the frontline. The supplier committed to as much as 400,000 pieces per week, and that is what we will add on the local supply because even the private sector is having a hard time sourcing stocks,” Lopez said.
“In a month, they were able to commit one million pieces [of face masks] for the public and one million for the DOH requirement. This [pace] will go on as long as we need these stocks,” he said.
The Manila Health Department, meanwhile, has already started distributing 116,000 face masks to the six districts of the city in line with its precautionary measures against the deadly 2019 novel coronavirus.
Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Domagoso ordered the distribution of free face masks to students in the elementary and high school levels hours after the DOH announced the first nCoV case in the Philippines.
The face masks came mostly from donations, while others were purchased by the city government, and will be distributed to the 56 health centers of the six districts of Manila.
Face masks will also be distributed to the public schools in the city.
On Feb. 3, the Manila City government received a donation of 50,000 face masks from the Philippine Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc.
The Philippines confirmed that a man who tested positive for the new coronavirus died on Feb. 1.
The 44-year-old Chinese man was the second confirmed case in the Philippines.
Health officials said he was the companion of the person in the first confirmed case, a 38-year-old woman. Both were from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the virus outbreak, and were confined at the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila.
Also on Tuesday, the leftist women’s organization Gabriela called for the realignment of the P36-billion budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict to bolster the capabilities of the DOH, including hospitals and medical practitioners, to ensure public safety and health.
Gabriela said the P830-million Health Emergency Fund and P115.5-million Disease Surveillance program allocation is not nearly enough for the DOH to properly and efficiently respond to the looming health emergency in the country.
“Instead of wasting precious public funds on the NTF-ELCAC, which has done nothing but to vilify and persecute legitimate organizations, the government should prioritize the safety of the public,” Gabriela said in a statement.
READ: DFA suspends visa issuances to ChineseREAD: DOH to big hospitals: You can’t turn away suspected nCoV patientsREAD: US, Japan nationals lead escape from Wuhan; PH readies planes
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