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Indonesia detects new variant, Health department on the look-out

The Department of Health (DOH) is monitoring a new variant of coronavirus that has been discovered in Indonesia that has the ability to evade natural immunity from previous COVID-19 infection and to reduce protection offered by current vaccines, but said this strain has not been detected in the Philippines yet.

“As far as they know, as far as their data will show, from the different genome sequencing that we have done already, we have not seen anything like this yet,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.

On Tuesday, Indonesia reported its first case of the variant, which contains the E484K mutation first found in South Africa and Brazil and is nicknamed “Eek” by scientists—due to “its apparent ability to evade natural immunity from previous COVID-19 infection and to reduce protection offered by current vaccines.”

Vergeire said there was no recent genome sequencing done by the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) following a contamination of its machines.

For this week, the PGC will run a total of 1,500 samples through two of its machines to produce the latest genome sequencing data.

So far, the variants of concern are the B.1.1.7, the South Africa variant, and the P.3 variant which is still under investigation, Vergeire said.

On Tuesday, the PGC said that variants were in at least 9.9 percent of 4,000 samples it has processed.

The Philippines logged 9,216 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, ringing the total number of infections to 828,366, as active cases logged another record-high at 167,279, the DOH reported.

Active cases stood at 167,279, the highest recorded in a day since the start of the pandemic. It accounts for 20.2 percent of the total cases.

The previous highest record of active cases was 165,715 on April 3.

Of the active cases, 97.6 percent are mild; 1.2 percent are asymptomatic; 0.5 percent are critical; 0.5 percent are severe; and 0.29 percent are moderate.

The DOH also reported 60 new fatalities, bringing the death toll to 14,119, which is 1.7 percent of the total.

The DOH said 598 persons recently recovered, bringing the total recoveries to 646,968, which is 78.1 percent of the total.

The DOH also reported that, nationwide, 63 percent of the ICU beds are in use; 50 percent of the isolation beds are in use; 51 percent of the ward beds are in use; and 45 percent of the ventilators are being used.

In Metro Manila, 81 percent of the ICU beds are in use; 73 percent of the isolation beds are in use; 60 percent of the ward beds are in use; and 60 percent of the ventilators are being used.

Test 50k daily in NCR

Former special adviser to the National Task Force against COVID-19 Dr. Tony Leachon said on Thursday that the government must test an average of 50,000 people in Metro Manila, as there are more than 150,000 active COVID-19 cases in the country.

“We’re not ramping up on the testing, We only average 30,000 instead of 50,000 up to 100,000 because we are in a pandemic,” Leachon said in an ANC interview.

“But our base is ... 156,000 active cases. So we must be doing at least 50,000 testing in the NCR,” Leachon said.

This was his statement after National Task Force Against COVID-19 deputy chief implementer and testing czar Vince Dizon on Tuesday rejected the renewed calls for mass testing.

Dizon said the government cannot test the entire population of 110 million Filipinos.

Citing an International Monetary Fund study, Leachon said mass testing should cover 20 percent of the population but currently, the Philippines only tested 8.79 percent since January 2020.

“You put money where your mouth is and you have to concentrate on the hot spot area,” he said.

PHA pushes for antigen approval

Meanwhile, the Philippine Hospital Association (PHA) asked the government to approve the commercial distribution of rapid antigen test kits for COVID-19 as hospitals find themselves overwhelmed by a fresh surge in infections.

Dr. Jaime Almora, President of PHA, said allowing more people to test themselves for COVID-19 could help slow the spread of the virus.

“If we empower the people to do the examination on themselves… then the self information that they have on their COVID status can be used by them to know how to isolate or to prevent the disease from spreading,” Almora said in an interview with CNN Philippines.

Almora pointed out that rapid antigen tests have proven effective and have a high sensitivity rate.

What makes COVID-19 tests expensive is “the cost of the manpower that performs those examinations” and the personal protective equipment that health workers need to wear, he said.

“If you remove [those] from the equation… then the cost of the kit alone should be affordable to the people,” he said.

“If only the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) would approve commercial distribution so that people can buy them like buying pregnancy tests, because it is as easy as doing a pregnancy test, and people will be taught how to do self collection of specimens,” he added.

DOH redeploys 136 doctors, nurses to Metro Manila

The DOH said Thursday it is redeploying 136 doctors and nurses from other regions to seven DOH hospitals, two specialty hospitals and one regional hospital in Metro Manila to augment the health care workers in the National Capital Region. The redeployed health care workers will be assigned in NCR to provide additional support for COVID-19 response.

The first batch of redeployed workers consisting of 42 doctors and

nurses from Regions I, IV and V were assigned to East Avenue Medical Center and Quirino Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City, Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Caloocan City, and Amang Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Marikina City.

Another 94 workers from Regions VII, VIII, IX, X, XI and BARMM will be redeployed to six other hospitals starting this week.

These hospitals are the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, Lung Center of the Philippines and the off-site extension of Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Center at the Quezon Institute in Quezon City, San Lazaro Hospital and Tondo Medical Center in the City of Manila, and Rizal Medical Center in Pasig City.

Under this program, all redeployed health care workers are entitled to

RT-PCR testing prior, during and post deployment, per diem, work

transportation expenses, accommodation and meals, among others on top of their salaries and other emoluments from their mother offices.

LTFRB allows 4,000 buses, jeepneys in NCR

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board said it will allow some 4,000 jeepneys and buses to ply the streets of Metro Manila next week.

LTFRB Metro Manila regional director Zona Tamayo said 1,800 jeepneys will be allowed to operate on 60 routes while 2,600 provincial buses will ply 190 routes.

“As we open routes, we remind operators to observe proper health protocols,” Tamayo said.

Topics: Department of Health , COVID-19 , Maria Rosario Vergeire , Philippine Genome Center , Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board , Food and Drug Administration
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