PH steps up preparations for possible Covid surge

·7 min read

WITH the detection of the first local cases of the Delta variant, the government went on emergency mode and activated the second half of a four-door strategy to ensure that measures are in place nationwide to address and immediately contain a possible surge in coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) cases.

Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) Against Covid-19, said Friday, July 16, 2021, that the country is “well-prepared” for a possible surge in infections such as what happened in India and Indonesia.

He said hospitals have been given funds to stock up on medicines, modular hospitals with at least 110 beds each have been constructed, a mega hospital with 336 beds has been built in Metro Manila, and the One Hospital Command has been activated.

He also said all 3.2 million doses of the single-dose Janssen viral vector vaccine donated by the United States through Covax Facility will be sent to Northern Mindanao, Western Visayas and National Capital Region (NCR), where the local Delta cases were detected.

Cebu City

Councilor Joel Garganera said stringent entry protocols are still being enforced at the Port of Cebu. All inbound domestic passengers are required to present a negative reverse transcription - polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test result.

A swabbing station has been established at the back of the Malacañang sa Sugbo to cater to passengers coming from areas with no swabbing capabilities.

“We have never lowered our guard at our seaports,” said Garganera, who is also the deputy chief implementer of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

He said the EOC has been meeting with various sectors including the Cebu Archdiodese, mortuaries and, recently, the transportation sector.

Cebu City Councilor James Anthony Cuenco, head of the Jeepney Task Force, reminded public transportation operators in a meeting on Thursday, July 15, to ensure that health protocols are followed inside public utility vehicles (PUV).

During their meeting, Cuenco said they also agreed to limit passengers to: 13 instead of 15 for small vehicles like multicabs and FilCabs; 13 instead of 18 for medium-sized vehicles like assembled jeepneys and Sarao; and 21 instead of 26 for large vehicles like Elf and Chariot.

Modern jeepneys will be allowed to carry only 75 percent of the maximum capacity indicated in the Certificate of Registration (CR).

Cuenco did not say when these new guidelines would take effect.

Oplan Bulabog

The Cebu City Police Office (CCPO), meanwhile, will resume its Oplan Bulabog to ensure that health protocols are followed in business establishments, especially in bars.

Police Lt. Col. Wilbert Parilla, CCPO deputy director for operation, said they will strictly enforce the curfew and make the rounds in bars and other establishments beginning Friday night.

“Considering that according to EOC that we have an increase in our positive cases of Covid, we will focus on Oplan Bulabog, and implementation of curfew and minimum health protocols in all establishments starting this evening,” Parilla said.

Oplan Bulabog was briefly put on hold when the CCPO had to make preparations for the visit of Philippine National Police Chief Guillermo Eleazar.

He said they will also remind the public to properly wear their face masks.

In just one week from July 9 to 15, Parilla said they apprehended 1,068 individuals who violated health protocols. Of the total, 160 were minors, 832 violated the curfew, 343 did not wear a face mask and 13 failed to present a quarantine pass.

Delta variant

The University of the Philippines Philippine Genome Center announced Friday that the highly contagious Delta variant, which overwhelmed the health system in India and caused nearly vertical epidemic curves in several countries, has been detected in 16 additional cases, including 11 local cases.

Of the first local cases, six were from Northern Mindanao, two were from NCR, one was tested in NCR but has address in Central Luzon, and two were from Western Visayas.

Five other new cases were returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs).

These brought the total Delta cases in the country to 35, with two mortalities.

Except for two ROFs, whose quarantine status was still being verified, the rest of the 33 Delta cases have recovered.

Dr. Alethea de Guzman, director of the Department of Health (DOH) Epidemiology Bureau, said they have yet to determine whether the local Delta cases are connected.

“As of now, what we can say is that we have local cases. As Dr. Edsel (Salvaña) said, (the cases are) sporadic. Clustering is observed but we are still investigating whether the cases are linked. We also hope to establish the source of infection,” De Guzman said.

Asked to categorically say whether there is local transmission of the Delta variant, De Guzman said, “For me, I would say not yet because we haven’t been able to link that one case has been able to infect another.”

Dr. Cynthia Saloma, University of the Philippines Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC) executive director, said these local cases were 100 percent introduced by travelers from other countries.

Strategy

DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said they held an emergency meeting with all regional units Thursday to activate the last two strategies in a four-door strategy against Covid-19.

“With our four-door strategy, we have delayed the entry of this Delta variant with the activation of Door 1 and Door 2. Now that we have detected additional cases of Delta variant, and because they are local cases, we are now activating Doors 3 and 4,” she said.

Door 1 is the imposition of travel restrictions such as the ban of travelers from India, Indonesia and six other countries. Door 2 refers to screening, quarantine and testing at ports of entry to contain cases that have entered the country.

Door 3 means there is already an outbreak in the country and all local government units (LGUs) must strengthen the PDITR (prevent, detect, isolate, treat and reintegrate) strategy to prevent further transmission.

Door 4 is the imposition of community quarantines to contain the spread and prevent the health system from becoming overwhelmed.

Malacañang announced Thursday that the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has placed Iloilo Province, Iloilo City, Cagayan de Oro and Gingoog City under enhanced community quarantine, the most stringent form of quarantine, until July 31.

In sticking to the strict implementation of these strategies, health officials have repeatedly said they were merely buying time to prepare against a surge.

Contact tracing

Vergeire also said all DOH regional units and LGUs were directed to ensure that by the time a patient is found positive for the virus, the LGU should have already conducted contact tracing.

LGUs are also urged to do back tracing, up to the third generation of close contacts.

The Bureau of Quarantine and the Department of Transportation are both on high alert to implement stricter border control measures.

Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III, who met earlier Friday with governors, mayors and the regional IATFs particularly in Western Visayas, said the variant may be causing the continued rise in cases in Iloilo City and Iloilo Province even though both were under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) for several weeks.

He said monitoring of cases has been intensified, and LGUs in Western Visayas have been directed to improve contact tracing efforts and increase public awareness about the variant.

The same directives have been given to LGUs in Northern Mindanao and NCR, he said.

Although Covid-19 transmission is being controlled by vaccination, Vergeire said it is still being driven by the variants of concern, increased social mobility and inappropriate use of public health measures.

“Even while we are vaccinating our Filipino people, minimum public health measures such as physical distancing, face masks and face shields should not be neglected,” she said.

Galvez said the total number of doses administered in the country breached four million on July 14 and daily inoculations reached a new high of 391,283 on July 15. (SunStar Philippines/JJL/AYB)

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