Government won’t ease quarantine state with vax rollout

The national government will not be easing quarantine classifications immediately after it kicks off its COVID-19 vaccination drive, a Palace official said Wednesday.

In an interview over the government-run PTV-4, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said even if a few people had started getting vaccinated, quarantine classifications would only be relaxed after a significant decrease in COVID-19 cases.

Currently, Metro Manila, Batangas, Tacloban City, Davao City, Davao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, and Iligan City are under general community (GCQ) quarantine status for the entire month of February.

The Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) is also under GCQ until the end of the month as most of the UK variant cases in the country are recorded in the northern region.

The rest of the country is under modified GCQ, the least stringent quarantine classification.

“Why are we still in GCQ and MGCQ status? Because of the number of cases, because of the growth rate and the attack rate of virus, because of our occupancy and healthcare capacity. So, those are the factors. How does the status downgrade from GCQ to MGCQ? That’s when the situation improves and those rates decrease,” he said.

However, Nograles hoped that COVID-19 cases would slowly start to decrease once the vaccination drive starts.

“When massive rollout of vaccination starts, cases of infection will go down…The whole world is expecting the effect of vaccination, we can slowly see cases decreasing which will eventually result to herd immunity within communities,” he said.

He also warned the public against the purchase of fake COVID-19 vaccines.

The first 117,000 doses of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine will arrive in the Philippines in mid-February, courtesy of the COVAX Facility led by the World Health Organization.

The country is also expected to receive at least 5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines from COVAX.

Under the government’s prioritization list, frontline workers in health facilities both national and local, private and public, health professionals and non-professionals like students, nursing aides, janitors, barangay health workers will be the first sector to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Prioritize military, police

President Rodrigo Duterte has asked to prioritize members of the police and military in the inoculation using COVID-19 vaccines to be donated by China’s Sinovac, as they are also considered “frontliners,” his former close aide, Senator Christopher Go, said Wednesday.

In a statement, Go gave updates on the status of the country’s procurement of COVID-19 vaccines. He said the documentary requirements for the AstraZeneca vaccine from the COVAX facility are already being finalized, while the Pfizer vaccine is the first one to arrive in the country.

“Susunod rin po yung donasyon ng bansang Tsina — ito pong Sinovac. At pinagbilin po ni Pangulong Duterte na ilan po dito sa mga donated doses mula sa Tsina ay bibigyan po ng prayoridad ang ating mga sundalo at mga kapulisan dahil kabilang rin po sila sa ating mga itinuturing na frontliners,” Go said.

PNP to secure vaccines

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Police General Debold Sinas on Wednesday assured the public the force is ready to provide security during the vaccination rollout against COVID-19.

The military had previously been tasked by President Rodrigo Duterte to deliver the vaccine to the countryside and far-flung areas.

In a statement, Sinas said the PNP Directorate for Operations prepared a plan that will activate all security and public safety operations.

“In our own assessment of the simulation exercise of the vaccine delivery held yesterday at the NAIA, RITM, PGH and Lung Center, all systems are in place to ensure the unhampered transport of the vaccine shipment to the storage facilities and distribution hubs,” Sinas said.

Security and public safety guidelines and procedures are set under the PNP Vaccination Plan “Caduceus.”

PNP Deputy Chief for Operations Police Lieutenant General Cesar Hawthorne Binag will serve as supervisor in the implementation.

New COVID cases

The Department of Health reported Wednesday 1,345 new coronavirus disease 2019 infections, bringing the total to 541,560 as four laboratories failed to submit data on time.

According to the DOH, total recoveries also rose to 499,971 after 276 more patients recovered from the illness while the death toll climbed to 11,401 with 114 fatalities.

Of the remaining 30,188 active cases undergoing treatment or quarantine, 88.2 percent are mild, 6.1 percent are asymptomatic, 2.5 percent are severe, and 2.6 percent are in critical condition.

Based on data from the DOH, 61 percent of the country’s intensive care unit beds are available while 79 percent of the mechanical ventilators are ready for use.

NBI help sought

Meanwhile, the Department of Health has once again asked the help of the National Bureau of Investigation in tracking down a 35-year-old male Liloan, Cebu resident who tested positive for the UK coronavirus variant, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said Wednesday.

“We have sought the help of the NBI so that we can track if this individual is really no longer in our country, and also the manifest from the airline where they stated the specific date of exit of this person from Liloan, Cebu,” she said in a virtual briefing.

Earlier, the patient was identified as a returning overseas Filipino with a local address in Liloan, whose samples were collected on January 17.

DOH Region 7 clarified, however, that the patient left Cebu in November last year to process his requirements as an OFW, and has never traveled back to his hometown since then.

The country has so far logged 25 cases of the more transmissible UK variant, 22 of whom have already recovered, one has died, and two cases have remained active.

Delivery time

The government on Wednesday was able to deliver dummy COVID-19 vaccines from the airport to an inoculation facility in under three hours, cutting down delivery time from the previous four hours, the Department of Health (DOH) said.

From the airport, the vaccines were inspected and given clearance by the Bureau of Customs, the DOH and the Food and Drug Administration.

The COVID-19 vaccines were then brought to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) to be stored in ultra-low freezers of -70 to -80 degrees.

From the RITM, the vaccines were brought to the Philippine General Hospital, Lung Center of the Philippines and Dr. Jose Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Caloocan City.

DOH Director Ariel Valencia said a simulation exercise was also held in Davao on Wednesday.

Vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said the simulation exercise on the delivery of vaccines went faster than expected.

In other developments:

* The Department of Health (DOH) ordered initial vaccination sites to prepare a “quick substitution list” in case vaccine recipients fail to show up on schedule, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said on Wednesday. “Considering the fact that these vaccines are very valuable, we do not want to have wastage in our deployment program. So we already have this quick substitution list,” Vergeire said during a virtual briefing.

* The Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) on Tuesday recommended the emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by British pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca for individuals aged 18 years and older. The HTAC is an advisory body to the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

Citing the European Medicines Agency, the HTAC said in its recommendation that “protection is expected given the immunogenicity profile seen in this age group and based on the experience of other countries with other vaccines.” However, the HTAC said that the vaccine should not be given to individuals younger than 18 and those with a known history of severe allergic reaction to any of the vaccine’s components.

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