President Rodrigo Duterte is offering a P10-million reward to any Filipino who will discover a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Palace Spokesman Harry Roque said Tuesday.
“First of all, because it is public enemy, this COVID-19, not only here in the Philippines but around the world, the President already announced to the public that he would give P10- million reward to any Filipino who could discover a vaccine against COVID-19,” Roque said in a virtual press briefing.
The World Health says at present, there is no vaccine or specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-19.
Scientists across the world are still racing to find a treatment for the viral disease that has affected more than two million people worldwide and killed over 170,000.
The DOH recorded a total of 6,459 cases as of April 20 with 428 deaths and 613 recoveries.
Meanwhile, the Department of the Interior and Local has ordered local government units to focus on contact tracing of possible COVID-19 carriers.
“With the absence of the cure and the vaccine against COVID-19 for now, the fight against this virus is in contact tracing. It is urgent that LGUs identify the hosts or carriers of COVID-19 in every locality to prevent further spread of this deadly virus,” said DILG Secretary Eduardo Año.
He said that all LGUs are advised to increase the number of contact tracing teams to track down all persons with known exposure to COVID-19 patients.
These teams, he said, will also monitor the status of the suspect and probable COVID-19 cases, and family members with known contact to a confirmed case to mitigate the possibility of contagion. These teams will also report daily updates to the COVID-19 provincial and regional task forces.
In his memo, Año also enjoined LGUs to increase the number of their trained personnel to conduct swabbing and specimen collection to assist the local epidemiology and surveillance unit.
After the conduct of the test, COVID-19 positive patients and probable cases will be confined to an isolation facility to be established by respective LGUs and will be medically managed consistently to the guidelines set in the Department of Health.
Severe and critical cases, as well as mild but high-risk cases, are required to be in Level 2 and 3 Hospitals. Confirmed cases with mild symptoms and asymptomatic are to be isolated in Level 1 hospitals or Ligtas COVID-19/Isolation Center or the LGU-managed temporary treatment facility. These Ligtas COVID-19 Centers must be conducive for patients to fully recover from the disease and must have adequate medical and psychological support teams to address all the needs of the patient in isolation.
“After proper identification and isolation, LGUs must have proper specimen collection system and means to transport specimens to laboratories,” Año said.
About 5,000 specimens are pending COVID-19 confirmation in Research Institute for Tropical Medicine laboratories as 43 of its workforce already confirmed positive for the novel coronavirus.
To assist the institute, RITM Director Dr. Celia Carlos said the Department of Health has prescribed a temporary zoning system for the referral of specimens to the 16 newly-accredited COVID-19 testing centers.
However, she said nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swabs from Muntinlupa and nearby cities such as Parañaque, Las Piñas, and Pasay, will still be accommodated by RITM.
Carlos said the Institute has also partnered with the Department of Agriculture and the Philippine Red Cross for additional RT-PCR machines.
RITM has also opened the hiring of more medical technologists, encoders, and administrative staff to supplement laboratory personnel.
The National Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory has also been activated to accommodate COVID-19 testing.
Through the assistance of the World Health Organization, RITM is also set to receive an automated PCR machine and is set to initiate use of its GeneXpert Instrument System that can minimize the testing time to 45 minutes per sample.
With the announced scale down and a reduced number of specimens to be shipped to the institute over the next days, RITM is optimistic that the backlogs will be cleared by the end of the month.
“We understand that this is a cause for concern, but the number of positive cases among our personnel will continue to rise if we approach the issue in a business-as-usual manner,” Carlos said.
“We know that there are many who rely on the services of RITM as a national reference laboratory and tertiary hospital specializing in emerging and reemerging infectious diseases, but we promise that this laboratory slowdown is temporary,” she added.
During the scaled-down its laboratory operations, Carlos said there will be a thorough personnel testing and decontamination of its facilities.
“Only RITM laboratories are affected by this temporary slowdown, our hospital operations shall remain in full swing,” Carlos said. “Our primary concern right now is employee welfare.”
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Tuesday the government is addressing the limited testing capacity at the RITM, as other accredited laboratories are capable of processing more samples for COVID-19 testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Bureau of Corrections said 18 more inmates and one staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
The BuCor said 19 out of 51 people who were traced to have been exposed to the first reported COVID-19 patient in the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City have also tested positive.
“Those tested positive were reported to have mild symptoms and some are asymptomatic,” the bureau said on its Facebook page. “They are now being monitored and given vitamins, medicines and food supplements to strengthen their immune system.”