President Rodrigo Duterte may need to undergo a retest for COVID-19 if Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who is under a 14-day quarantine, tests positive for the novel coronavirus.
“In case the President interacted with Secretary Duque and the results of his test turn out to be positive, then we will advise the President to get tested again and to undergo self-quarantine,” said Health Assistant Secretary Ma. Rosario Vergeire, when asked about reports that Duque met the President on Monday.
Malacanang has assured the public that Duterte, who turns 75 on March 28, remains “fit and healthy” even after his exposure to Duque.
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Earlier, Duterte, along with his long-time aide, Senator Christopher Go, tested negative for the virus.
Duque, who is hypertensive and asthmatic, has gone on home quarantine.
In an interview over radio dzMM Friday, Duque said he is okay, and in fact, waiting for the 25,000 test kits from South Korea and 100,000 from China to start arriving Saturday so the Bureau of Customs will expedite their release.
“I work. That’s it, I’m monitoring my asthma and hypertension because those are pre-disposing factors,” Duque said.
Duque said he has no new symptoms and his symptoms “were the same as before.”
He and his wife, also a doctor, who has coughs but no fever, are watching each other.
“We are monitoring each other from afar,” said Duque who went on a self-quarantine after a DOH director from its Central Office tested positive for the virus.
In a separate interview, Vergeire said Duque was tested for COVID-19 because he is asthmatic and hypertensive.
She said the COVID-19 test would be administered only to the elderly and patients who have been exhibiting symptoms of the disease including fever, headache and cough, among others, due to the to the limited number of testing kits in the Philippines.
At the same time, the DOH official said there no need yet to conduct mass testing, but she said the government is ready to do it if the need arises.
She admitted that the government is having some difficulties with its testing and laboratory capacities with the deluge of patients that need to be tested.
“We are being challenged right now with our testing capacity and laboratory capacity. Reports about delay in testing are true,” she said.
However, she said the government is already taking all measures to spread and extend the capacities of laboratories.
At present, Vergeire said 1,170 COVID-19 tests have been administered in the country.
The DOH reported Friday that 230 people have tested positive for the virus. Eighteen people have died from it, while eight have recovered as of March 20.
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In response to a plea from private hospitals, Duque said Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center and a building at the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) will be used for COVID-19 patients exclusively.
The move would centralize efforts as private hospitals are reeling from a drastically reduced workforce who have been put on quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19, Duque said.
He said UP-PGH has begun turning away non-emergency cases to free up wards and rooms.
“The initiative will require full support from the NCR medical community since additional health care workers will be needed to complement PGH’s existing workforce,” Duque’s memo to UP-PGH said.
In a joint statement, private hospitals and medical industry leaders appealed to the government to put up centralized facilities for COVID-19 patients.
After reading the statement, Duque said he approved a plan to turn a building at UP-PGH in Manila into a facility for 140 COVID patients.
“It will be converted to an exclusive COVID hospital at PGH,” said Duque said in an interview on radio dzMM.
“The agreement would be COVID-patients of private hospitals would be concentrated at PGH where there will be an exclusive COVID-19 hospital,” Duque said.
He said the DOH will also transform its Jose Rodriguez Memorial Hospital into a specialized COVID hospital.
Health authorities, he said, are also working on putting up 120 beds exclusively for COVID-19 cases at the Jose Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Tala, Caloocan.
Duque urged hospitals with diminishing protective equipment to contact the DOH.
The alliance of 11 hospitals issued a statement Thursday, March 19, calling on the national government and the Department of Health to designate hospitals for patients infected with the new pathogen, saying the growing health crisis had begun to overwhelm health care centers.
“We are very scared. With depleting resources, private hospitals appeal for designated COVID-19 facilities,” they said.
“We are aware that there is a plan to do this; we are urgently appealing for the DoH to mobilize this plan, challenging as it may be, but which the private hospitals are willing and ready to facilitate,” they added.
They also warned about their depleting resources, including personal protective equipment.
Duque said they were looking at the Lung Center of the Philippines for a similar setup. Its executive director, however, said this would be difficult to do since they had many cancer patients using linear accelerators for radiation treatment.
As a compromise, Duque said,the hospital would provide 40 rooms committed to COVID-19 patients.
“Because LCP is a referral hospital with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and lung cancer, care must be taken not to expose their immuno-compromised patients,” Duque said.
The Health chief affirmed the appeals of private hospitals, saying he supported their pronouncements. Some private hospitals were giving equipment, including respirators, for patients of the virus, he said.
Aside from RITM in Muntinlupa City and San Lazaro Hospital in Sta. Cruz. Manila, Vergeire said testing for possible COVID-19 patients can now be done at Baguio General Hospital, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu and Southern Philippine Medical Center in Davao City.
To further extend their testing capacity, she said the DOH is also looking at Western Visayas Medical Center and Bicol Public Health Laboratory.
In related developments:
* Mayor Joy Belmonte on Friday confirmed six new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 38 in Quezon City. The three new cases were all doctors, she said.
While one of the physicians was from Barangay Damayang Lagi, the relatives of the two other doctors contracted the disease. The second COVID-19 doctor came from Barangay Bahay Toro. The last doctor from Barangay Phil-Am died before his samples tested positive for COVID-19.
Five of the 38 cases were able to recover, the mayor said.
* Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Friday said thousands of testing kits for COVID-19, personal protective equipment sets and masks donated by Chinese government arrived in the country.
The donation from China includes 100,000 testing kits for COVID-19, 100,000 surgical masks, 10,000 N95 masks, and 10,000 sets of PPE.
* Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta on Friday said he tested negative of COVID-19 after he showed symptoms of the disease following an official trip to the Netherlands early this month. In a statement, Peralta reassured the officials and employees of the judiciary and the general public that he is continuing his work from home and that he is closely monitoring the situation of the courts throughout the country.
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