DOH verdict: Entire Cebu under MGCQ till March 15

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CEBU Province, and the three independent cities of Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu will most likely remain under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) until March 15, 2021, Department of Health Central Visayas (DOH 7) spokesperson Dr. Mary Jean Loreche said.

This means an additional two weeks for DOH 7 and other officials involved in the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) response to keep transmission in check and ensure that the health system is not overwhelmed.

The other provinces in Central Visayas--Bohol, Negros Oriental and Siquijor--will also remain under MGCQ, the most lenient form of community quarantine.

Loreche said this was the recommendation of the DOH central office’s technical advisory council (TAC) during their meeting on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, drawing sighs of relief from business leaders.

The TAC’s recommendation will be presented to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, which will present the new risk classifications and community quarantine levels for March to President Rodrigo Duterte for approval before the end of February.

“That will be submitted to the IATF. At least, the technical advisory council listened to us and we were able to present our data and the action plans of the LGUs,” Loreche said.

“So basically, I think, very positive, optimistic, but there will be another meeting with them to discuss our activities,” she added.

Loreche said she and other DOH 7 officials presented the number of cases, admissions, case fatality rate and critical care utilization rate (CCUR).

The critical care utilization rate, which refers to the proportion of Covid-19 beds and ventilators that are in use, is the parameter considered by the IATF in the escalation of quarantine levels.

As of Feb. 25, Loreche said the CCUR in private hospitals in Cebu was 55.4 percent, which is still below the 60 percent warning threshold.

Of the 832 regular and intensive care unit Covid beds, 371 were still available as 461 were occupied.

Isolation capacity

Loreche said they informed the council that DOH 7 has accredited additional isolation hotels for asymptomatic patients. Eight isolation hotels offer more than 300 rooms in the cities of Cebu and Lapu-Lapu.

These hotels also cater to patients who are recovering from Covid-19. Instead of continuing to stay at a hospital, they can complete the mandated isolation period in a hotel.

Loreche also said they informed the TAC that contact tracing up to the third generation was conducted for patients found to be carrying the N501Y and E484K mutations of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

She said this, and the action plans submitted by the local government units (LGUs) to control transmission, made the central office “happy.”

She cited Lapu-Lapu City’s reimposition of a liquor ban and resumption of the quarantine pass requirement as well as Naga City’s contact tracing activities. Talisay City said it has increased capacity of isolation facilities.

Cebu City’s efforts to commission more contact tracers and vehicles during extraction of new cases for isolation purposes were also presented.

Business establishments and public transportation units were closely monitored for compliance to the minimum public health standards, she added.

Reactions

Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Felix Taguiam said he was relieved to learn about this development.

“We have to do more. At least we can go on with the economy at work which will surely help so many people. Minimum health standards must be strictly enforced by our authorities with no special treatment and we are hoping in the next few weeks, we will see the downtrend,” he said.

Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Steven Yu said this will sustain economic momentum.

“Tightening the quarantine levels should never be an option now if we are to recover from this pandemic. The economic scars are actually quite deep, but we are given renewed hope with this development,” Yu said.

Filipino Cebuano Business Club chairman Rey Calooy was grateful for this positive development.

“We are grateful that they listened to the voice of the people. Cebu’s economy is very important to the whole Visayas also because of its high population count. It means that if its economy will grind to a stop, many people will suffer,” he said.

On Friday, DOH 7 reported a total of 321 new Covid-19 cases--148 from Cebu City, 74 from Cebu Province, 59 from Lapu-Lapu City, 19 from Mandaue City, 17 from Negros Oriental and four from Bohol.

These increased the active cases in hospitals and isolation facilities to 6,645 in the entire region, broken down as follows: 3,044 from Cebu City, 1,367 from Cebu Province, 888 from Lapu-Lapu City, 834 from Mandaue City, 378 from Negros Oriental, 122 from Bohol and 12 from Siquijor.

There were seven additional deaths--three from Cebu Province, two from Lapu-Lapu, and one each from Cebu City and Negros Oriental. These brought the total death toll in the region to 1,566.

There were 342 additional recoveries, bringing the total to 30,051 in the region.

Vaccination

DOH 7 aims to vaccinate a total of 5,634,789 eligible individuals in Central Visayas this year.

Dr. Van Phillip Baton, DOH 7 medical program coordinator for infectious diseases, said during the first full council meeting of the Regional Development Council (RDC) 7 for 2021on Friday that around 18,000 will be healthcare workers (HCWs).

Of this number, 9,659 HCWs will come from Cebu City.

Baton said the Sinovac vaccine will likely reach the region in March.

The 600,000 doses of Sinovac vaccine donated by China, which will be the first batch of vaccines to reach the country, are expected to arrive on Sunday, Feb. 28, Malacañang announced.

On Friday, the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (Nitag) said it has decided to stick to the prioritization framework for vaccination program and give healthcare workers priority in the rollout of the Sinovac vaccine despite the advice of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In granting the emergency use authorization for the Sinovac inactivated vaccine, the FDA said it is not recommended for healthcare workers who deal directly with Covid-19 patients.

The vaccine will be administered to clinically healthy adults who are 18 to 59 years old. It will be given in two doses, at 0.5 ml each, four weeks apart.

Under the three-year national deployment and vaccination program, Baton said 70 to 75 million Filipinos nationwide will be eligible for vaccination in 2021. The number will increase to 112 million in 2022. By then, the Philippine population is forecast to increase by 42 million.

Baton said as initially discussed, those who will be vaccinated during the first year will be given a booster dose on the second year. Booster shots are still being developed, though. (JOB / WBS / SunStar Philippines)