Philippines under a ‘State of Public Health Emergency’

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has placed the country under a State of Public Health Emergency following the confirmation of local Covid-19 transmission, his former aide said Saturday, March 7, 2020.

Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, in a text message, said the President based his declaration on the recommendation of the Department of Health (DOH) and his “suggestion as chair of the Senate committee on health.”

His message was sent out just a couple of hours after Health Secretary Francisco Duque III announced in a press conference that they will recommend such a declaration.

In a statement, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo confirmed that the President has agreed to heed the DOH recommendation.

“The said proposal has been raised to the attention of the President who has agreed to issue such declaration after considering all critical factors with the aim of safeguarding the health of the Filipino public,” Panelo said.

Duque said the declaration is a signal to all concerned agencies, local government units and health care providers to be ready to implement planned response measures.

”We are continuously reminding everyone to practice personal protective measures, such as hand hygiene, social distancing, and proper cough etiquette. Avoid unnecessary travel and postpone mass gatherings, as well. It is our individual responsibility to protect ourselves and the people around us. Only through collective action in our communities will we be able to limit the spread of the virus,” Duque read his statement in a press conference Saturday.

Code Red

The DOH confirmed three new cases of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in the country on Saturday as it raised Code Red sub-level 1.

Code Red, according to Duque, is a preemptive call to ensure that national and local governments and public and private health care providers can prepare for possible increase in suspected and confirmed cases.

The fifth and sixth cases, a couple, are considered cases of local transmission because they have no history of travel.

The fifth case, a 62-year-old Filipino male, is in critical condition at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

He had infected his wife, 59. The couple lives in Cainta, Rizal. Duque said contact tracing is ongoing while household members, who are asymptomatic as of Saturday, are under home quarantine.

The fourth case is a 48-year-old Filipino employee of Deloitte at its Philippine office in the Bonifacio Global City (BGC). He has a history of travel to Japan.

Both the fourth and sixth cases are considered mild forms of Covid-19. The fifth case is in critical condition. He has severe pneumonia and preexisting hypertension, diabetes and kidney injury.

The first three cases involved Chinese tourists, including one who died. The two others have returned to China.

As of March 6, 2020, there were 46 patients under investigation (PUI) for Covid-19 in various hospitals across the country.

The global death toll rose past 3,400, with more than 100,000 cases reported.

In Central Visayas one out of 61 PUIs remain admitted in a hospital as of Saturday. Nationwide, the DOH continues to monitor 691 PUIs.

Of the number, 640 are already discharged but are still under monitoring while 46 remain isolated.

The first five confirmed cases were also included in the tally. PUIs are those who have a travel history to countries with Covid-19 cases and/or contacts with people infected with the disease and are manifesting symptoms, such as flu, cough and shortness of breath.

The declaration of the State of Public Health Emergency, Duque said, will facilitate mobilization of resources, ease processes, including procurement of critical logistics and supplies and intensifying reporting and quarantine measures.

“At this stage of localized transmission, intensified contact tracing and home quarantine of close contacts of cases, improved hospital preparedness, enhanced severe acute respiratory illness surveillance and activation of other laboratories outside of RITM to increase capacity to diagnose are now being implemented,” the health secretary said.

He also said once there is a sustained community transmission or increasing number of cases whose links cannot be established, the strategy will be shifted from an intensive contact tracing to the implementation of community level quarantine or lockdown and possibly suspension of work or school.

This will be implemented in municipal, city, or provincial scale as may be warranted.

Augmentation of health staff in warranted areas and uniformed personnel will also be done.

He said the RITM with the assistance of the World Health Organization (WHO) is currently capacitating five subnational laboratories for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing: San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center in northern Luzon, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in the Visayas and Southern Philippines Medical Center in Mindanao.

“In addition, efforts are under way for the University of the Philippines National Institute of Health to be similarly capacitated,” he said.

At present, the way to diagnose Covid-19 is through a laboratory based PCR testing.

Waiting for validation

Duque said the DOH received several proposals of rapid testing kits including one that is being developed locally. However, these kits have yet to be listed or validated under the WHO emergency used kits.

Such validation is necessary to insure accuracy in results.

On the new three confirmed Covid-19 cases, the Epidemiology Bureau in coordination with Centers for Health Development offices is currently establishing travel history and identifying persons who might have contacts with positive cases, he said.

Contacts will be interviewed and assessed for signs of the disease. Symptomatic individuals found to have contacts with cases will be prioritized.

Following the President’s declaration, the Cebu City Government announced that it will make an emergency purchase of personal protective equipment, such as gloves, protective masks, protective suits and medicines for health responders.

Last month, the City Council approved a P15-million budget for this purpose.

City Councilor Dave Tumulak, chairman of the disaster risk reduction and management committee, requested barangays to prepare their health centers and ambulances.

John Eddu Ibañez, Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes’ executive secretary, said in a text message that the City’s incident command team for Covid-19 has been on standby for 24 hours, seven days a week for any untoward incident.

Ibañez said they will meet with the local health board on Monday, March 9.

Mandaue City Government also made an emergency purchase of protective gears for health workers as well as sanitizers.

Ibañez said they have distributed the items to the barangays.

He encouraged everyone to be vigilant and to practice proper hygiene and sanitation to prevent the spread of infection.

Mandaue City Health Officer Rose Marie Ouano Tirado, in a text message, said the public will need to do the same preventive measures, such as washing hands, avoiding big crowds, cooking food thoroughly, avoiding wild farm animals and avoiding constant touching of face and nose, among others. (MVI / WBS / JJL / KFD)