Health Secretary Francisco Duque began a 14-day self-quarantine on Wednesday, the Department of Health confirmed Thursday, as the number of COVID-19 cases climbed to 217 with 15 new cases, while deaths remained at 17 and recoveries rose to eight.
Duque, 63, had undergone tests for COVID-19, the results of which should be available in the next two to three days.
Duque, who is hypertensive and asthmatic, has set up work-from-home arrangements.
Health Assistant Health Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said Duque showed no symptoms of the disease.
“He has already been tested for COVID-19 test as he is asthmatic and hypertensive,” she said.
As Health secretary, Duque sits as chairman of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, which was convened by President Rodrigo Duterte due to the increase in the number of persons infected by COVID-19.
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She said the office of Duque has been disinfected to ensure the safety of department employees.
Vergeire earlier confirmed that a DOH director from its central office in Mandaluyong City had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
“Offices have been disinfected and close contacts informed so that they can immediately undergo home quarantine and strict monitoring,” she said.
In the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Migz Zubiri, who was tested positive for COVID-19, said he would no longer subject himself to a retest as suggested by Duque.
“There’s a lot of buzz on the news of Secretary Duque’s statement that I may be false positive and that I may need another test. That… may not be necessary at all,” said Zubiri, who went on home quarantine.
He said the available testing kits should be used for those who need them the most, such as frontline medical personnel and symptomatic patients, especially the elderly.
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Although he feels better already, Zubiri said he would complete the eight more days in isolation required.
The World Health Organization said the most commonly reported symptoms are fever, dry cough and shortness of breath.
It also said about 80 percent of infected patients experience “mild illness” and eventually recover from COVID-19. Some 14 percent experience severe illness while 5 percent become critically ill.
On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it would adopt alternative work arrangements and function with limited workforce to ensure continuity of government service during this time while protecting FDA employees.
Most applications could still be processed online, but high priority will be given to establishments involved in diagnosis, treatment, mitigation, or prevention of COVID-19 and manufacture or distribution of personal protective equipment and essential medicines.
Mayor Joy Belmonte on Thursday confirmed a total of 31 COVID-19 cases in Quezon City.
Interviewed over radio dzMM, Belmonte said the two new cases were already included in the list announced by the Department of Health Wednesday night.
“The latest is (we have) 31 cases in Quezon City. That still comprises 25 percent of cases in Metro Manila,” she said. “That is not yet too alarming since Quezon City does comprise 25 percent of Metro Manila.”
Last Wednesday afternoon, Belmonte declared barangays Kalusugan and Tandang Sora under “extreme enhanced community quarantine,” and said residences of three persons affected by COVID-19 in those areas would be considered “hot zones,” wherein all house members would not be allowed to go out of their houses.
A 500-meter radius around the areas or the so-called “warm zones” would be strictly monitored, she said.
The Quezon City Police District on Thursday set up checkpoints in two villages placed under “extreme lockdown” to prevent the spread of coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) disease.
Brig. Gen. Ronnie Montejo, QCPD chief, said QCPD Station 11 in Galas has established checkpoints along Fairhope Street corner E. Rodriguez Avenue, Umbel Street and St. Ignacia Street in Barangay Kalusugan, District 4
The village has three reported COVID-19 cases from separate residences.
Earlier, Karl Michael Marasigan, the city’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office chief, said E. Rodriguez Avenue was closed to motorists to discourage people from going to St. Luke’s Medical Center, where two COVID-19 cases were reported involving a doctor and an elevator operator, apart from a COVID-19 patient.
The hospital’s egress and ingress were strictly and closely monitored.
In Barangay Tandang Sora, District 6, the QCPD-Station 3 in Talipapa has put up checkpoints on Neptune Street corner Jupiter Street, Neptune Street corner Mercury Street and Tandang Sora Avenue in front of Hilda Village, and control points on Janet Street corner Carol Street.
“It is within these areas where we have identified the ‘hot zones’ and ‘warm zones.’ That is why we have established checkpoints and control points so that we could easily monitor the movement of the people in those areas and prevent the spread of the deadly virus,” Montejo said.
He called on the public to bear with them saying, “We are doing this for the protection of all of you against COVID-19.”
Panic buying seemed to ease on Thursday.
Save for alcohol, supplies at a grocery store in West Triangle, Quezon City have been replenished.
“There are fewer people today and what they can buy is limited,” said cashier Gloria Bais, speaking in Filipino.
Just outside the store fronting the Quezon Avenue, Metro Manila Development Authority flagging down motorists for violations.
MMDA traffic enforcer Samuel Maiter said they are mostly on the lookout for motorcycles with backriders, which is a violation of the social distancing restrictions.
In Manila, police manning the Blumentritt-Welcome Rotonda perimeter have already set up a special lane for vehicles carrying personnnel and travelers exempted from the travel ban.
Civilian employees from the health care, food, media, banking and finance industries are allowed to pass through local city and municipal borders.
Those coming from Quezon City who could not show ID indicating they were exempted from the travel ban would be turned back, a member of the checkpoint team said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, called for a special session of Congress to pass a supplemental budget to avert a looming public order crisis in which people would run out of food because of the lockdown in Luzon.
“I am told the people might run out of food by next week. Public order will suffer. We have to remove legal impediments for the use of available funds swiftly,” Sotto said.
“We need to get on our feet and make sure that our people, especially the poorest of the poor, do not worry about going hungry at a time when they should be focusing their attention on staying healthy,” she added.
He said local governments “would not last a week preparing and feeding their constituents.”
According to Sotto, he raised this concern after an economic expert warned him of what might happen.
He was also informed by Antique Rep. Loren Legarda that there is a P36 billion allocation for unconditional transfer funds in the 2020 General Appropriations Act which has not yet been used.
If the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) cannot use that for one reason or another, Sotto said they can pass a law saying they can distribute the cash, nationwide.
“I suggest for Congress to pass a food subsidy budget to provide for the daily wage earners who lost their income,” Sotto said.
The Senate chief explained that while a P500 per day per family would be the ideal subsidy, a P300 per family a day will have to do considering the financial strain that such an additional expenditure would cause the national treasury.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Thursday said the House of Representatives is ready to hold a special session pass measures granting a supplemental budget for the government to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Cayetano said the chamber is ready whenever the President decides to call for an emergency session.
Aside from passing a supplemental budget, Cayetano said the leadership will also push for the passage of a bill granting more flexibility in the use of government funds to provide immediate support to the severely affected sectors.
The House is also proposing a legislative measure that will finance a comprehensive economic stimulus package that will mitigate the effects of COVID-19 specifically on tourism and the informal sector as well as to the micro, small and medium enterprises, Cayetano said.
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