‘Czars’ to press Magalong to stay

Senior officials of the team in charge of the country’s COVID-19 response programs are scheduled to meet with contact tracing czar Benjamin Magalong to persuade him to withdraw his resignation, one of them said Tuesday.

Magalong, who submitted his resignation after attending a party in Baguio City where health protocols were violated, is “irreplaceable,” COVID-19 vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr. said in an interview on the government-run People’s Television PTV.

Vince Dizon, head of the country’s COVID-19 testing program, himself said he and Galvez were set to meet with Magalong soon – no date was mentioned – to persuade the latter to stay in the Inter Agency Task Force against COVID-19.

Dizon said “We will try to convince him not to leave the national task force because we need him there.”

Magalong earlier said he might change his mind should President Rodrigo Duterte ask him to stay as COVID-19 tracing czar.

The chief executive has “nothing but praises” for Magalong, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters.

“I am 100 percent sure the President would want Mayor Magalong to stay as contact tracing czar,” he said.

The party last month at a hotel in Baguio City drew public ire after some participants that included celebrities were photographed without face masks and face shields even as the coronavirus pandemic lingers.

Magalong said Tuesday he would stay on as the country’s contact tracing czar if President

Rodrigo Duterte asked him to, but he was hopeful his resignation would not reach the level of the chief executive.

“It is a situation where no one can refuse if the President tells you to stay and perform your job. I cannot refuse the President,” he told ANC’s Headstart.

Malacañang had said Magalong’s resignation “has not been accepted” before he insisted that it was irrevocable.

“I’m not denying that I failed to perform my job. I should have reminded people, I should have cautioned people to wear their masks, but I was not able to do that,” Magalong said.

Fine imposed

The local government of Baguio City has imposed a fine of P1,500 each on those who participated in the event, which was hosted by media personality Tim Yap and was attended by some 30 people, including a handful of celebrities.

The same fine was imposed on Arlene Magalong, the mayor’s wife. It was not disclosed if Magalong was also fined.

The Manor inside Camp John Hay was also fined a total of P9,000 for its violation of local rules on face masks, physical distancing, as well as new-normal protocols.

Sagada cases rise

Thirty-four more people in Bontoc and Sagada in Mountain Province have tested positive for COVID-19, Dizon said.

Thirty-two of the 1,709 people tested in Bontoc contracted COVID-19, while 2 of the 418 swabbed in Sagada registered a positive result, Sec. Vince Dizon said in a televised press conference.

Based on the latest report of the provincial health office, Bontoc has a total 498 COVID-19 cases, of which, 259 are active infections. Among these cases are of the UK variant, which is said to be more transmissible.

Sagada, meanwhile, has recorded 40 cases, of which, 25 are active infections.

The region’s health office said Mountain Province has logged 819 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 230 that are active.

Region-wide, the Cordillera has 11,848 total coronavirus infections, including 1,109 active cases.

‘No’ to tourists

Baguio City is not accepting tourists as the whole Cordillera Administrative Region is placed under general community quarantine, Magalong said Tuesday.

However, its local government has written to Tourism Sec. Bernadette Romulo-Puyat to ask that the city be allowed to accept tourists despite the quarantine regulation.

If approved, the Department of Tourism will then endorse this to the Inter-Agency Task Force against COVID-19 said Magalong.

“We cannot violate the IATF guidelines. We cannot. We have to strictly comply with it. What we might say is), just wait for further announcement. But for the meantime, we are not allowing tourists to come up to Baguio City,” he told ANC’s Headstart.

Magalong said for essential travelers or returning residents, they may simply register online for a permit to enter Baguio City.

Shift unlikely

Meanwhile, the easing of lockdown in Metro Manila to the least stringent level in March is unlikely, the OCTA Research Team said Tuesday.

OCTA Research fellow, Prof. Guido David, said the shift to modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), the lowest of four lockdown levels, will depend on the country’s vaccine roll out.

The timing of the government’s decision to ease quarantine level is “very critical” as it aims to roll out inoculations, David said.

“It would make it difficult for our doctors and nurses, who will administer the vaccine. So, we have to keep the pandemic in check while we wait for the rollout which is soon,” he said.

David, meantime, said he “generally does not agree” with the government’s policy of the wearing of face masks inside private vehicles.

Saliva collecting sites

Meanwhile, to make Saliva RT-PCR testing more accessible, the Philippine Red Cross has partnered with SM Supermalls (SCMC) as they open drive-thru saliva RT-PCR collection sites in SM megamall and SM Mall of Asia starting February 2.

A ceremonial signing of the memorandum of agreement was held the same day, attended by PRC Chairman and CEO Sen. Richard Gordon, PRC Secretary General Elizabeth Zavalla, SM Supermalls President Mr. Steven Tan, Senior Vice President for Operations Bien Mateo, and other executives from PRC and SCMC.

PRC will have its first two collection sites at the SM Megamall, Mega A bus bay at EDSA Mandaluyong, and at the 5 Ecom Open Parking in Mall of Asia, Pasay City.

The said locations will only serve as specimen collection sites for the saliva RT-PCR test and these samples will be forwarded to the Red Cross laboratories for testing.

PRC will start to roll out the Saliva RT-PCR testing nationwide as chapters that will serve as saliva sample collecting stations undergo training to ensure the safety of the collecting personnel and the quality of collected samples. This will give more Filipinos easier access to cheaper, faster, and non-invasive tests for COVID-19.

The saliva test offered by Red Cross, just like the swab test, is also RT-PCR based which is considered by the World Health Organization as the gold standard in testing for COVID-19. It has been approved by the Department of Health after going through thorough study and research by the University of Illinois and the University of the Philippines.

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