‘Schools should be a last resort’

Education Secretary Leonor Briones said Tuesday the use of schools as quarantine facilities during the raging coronavirus pandemic should be a last resort, and with three conditions.

Briones told a Laging Handa briefing the schools should be the last resort for quarantine facilities as there were other huge isolation facilities in the National Capital Region that could be used other than the public campuses.

Schools should also be qualified as an “appropriate” isolation facility based on the Department of Health guidelines, she said.

Briones added: “Not all classrooms can be used as an isolation center.

There are schools that only have a one-room school clinic while there are others that can really be used as an isolation center. These should also pass the requirements set by the Department of Health.”

Third, Briones said the local government units should be in charge of managing the schools used as isolation facilities, noting that it was their “primary responsibility.”

Briones also appealed to properly identify schools that would be used for isolation and those that will be assigned as vaccination sites, noting that there were non-classroom facilities such as school grounds and gymnasiums used for COVID-19-related responses.

Briones said: “We will agree to use these schools but we should not let these facilities be used simultaneously for academic purposes, health responses, vaccination, isolation, etc. without the supervision of the DOH and LGU.”

So far, Education Undersecretary Alain Pascua said 1,212 schools were being used as quarantine facilities.

Of the said number, 422 schools are in Region VIII, 216 in Region V, and only four in Metro Manila.

Pascua said the schools in Metro Manila were not being used as many hospitals and huge quarantine facilities are located in the region.

Testing capacity

As coronavirus disease cases surge, National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF) deputy chief implementer Vivencio Dizon said the government has further ramped up its testing capacity to detect those individuals that are infected by the coronavirus. In a Palace briefing, Dizon said average daily testing from April 6 to 10 reached 60,777 tests.

This means more than 10,000 reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction testing were added last week from the previous testing capacity of over 50,000, he said.

He added this was also on top of the target 30,000 antigen testing per day in the National Capital Region, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal, or the NCR Plus, along with Batangas and Pampanga provinces. Dizon, who is also the testing czar, said the government has distributed 100,000 antigen testing kits last weekend.

Media inclusion

Senator Joel Villanueva has sought the inclusion of workers in the media sector to be included in the government’s list of priority recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine, citing their indispensable work of providing “timely and truthful information” in the midst of the pandemic.

Villanueva, chair of the Senate labor committee, was commenting on the government’s priority list of essential workers who comprise the A4 cluster which was made public on Monday.

“Press freedom and timely access to truthful information are a must in times of pandemic. Media should be included in the A4 list,” Villanueva said.

He said our media workers were information frontliners. Aside from the dangers of their job, their contribution of knowledge and information against the pandemic is very important.

Villanueva cited the dangers faced by media workers who needed to move around to gather news and essential information for the public’s consumption.

He pointed out that aside from field reporters, newsrooms were staffed by various individuals such as photographers and videographers, editors, production crew, among others, to provide content to various platforms such as television, radio, print, and online.

Remdesivir replenished

Food and Drug Administration Director General Eric Domingo said that stocks of the COVID-19 therapeutic drug remdesivir were being replenished after stocks were significantly diminished at the start of the surge.

“The drug manufacturer’s supplies have arrived and they reassured us that there are stocks for at least a month. Nevertheless, remdesivir is being imported continuously and hospitals are applying for compassionate special permits for its use,” said Domingo.

While there were sufficient stocks of the COVID-19 therapeutic drug favipiravir, there was a shortage of tocilizumab.

Domingo also said there  was only one manufacturer for tocilizumab, nevertheless, that supplies would be replenished during the week.

Surgical masks

The Philippine Embassy in Singapore, together with the officials of the Department of Health, Department of Foreign Affairs, the Office of Presidential Protocol and the Singapore Embassy in Manila witnessed the signing ceremony of the Deed of Donation of one million pieces of surgical masks and the ceremonial handover of the twelfth batch of donations of high-grade medical equipment to the Philippines amounting to P100 million

The equipment is in the form of dialysis machines (15 units Multifiltrate with CICA, 8 units Haemodialysis 4008S, and 16 units Haemodialysis AQUA C), as well as necessary supplies and accessories.

The turnover was made on March 31, 2021. This new batch of donations was made possible through the partnership of Filinvest Corporate City Foundation Inc., who shouldered the freight cost of approximately P2 million, aimed at helping strengthen the Philippines’ public health care system in its fight against COVID-19.

These new donations come on the first anniversary of the initial batch of donations from the Temasek Foundation of Singapore made in March 2020.

Contact tracing

The Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19, a group of health workers, called for a law on “digital contact tracing”  as the country’s COVID-19 cases continued to rise.

The HPAAC  had also earlier called for “long-term” solutions as the government placed Metro Manila and nearby provinces under community quarantine  to curb virus spread.

The HPAAC  said the government and Congress must draft a law that would indicate which data should be recorded for how long and who should secure it.

“We were pushing for digital contact tracing because we feel this is the Achilles heel. We cannot continue on insisting we can do manual contact tracing. The virus is moving so fast. We were joking that the virus has gone viral but our contact tracing was still manual,” Dr. Aileen Espina, of the HPAAC said during an interview on ANC.

“We now have StaySafe. We also have QR codes in different LGUs (local government units), we have business establishments…They’re not sharing this data so nobody really gets a visual,” she said.

Text messages

Malacañang on Sunday said the Inter-Agency Task Force had approved the proposal to use text messages for automatic contact tracing through its app StaySafe.PH.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the COVID-19 Document Repository System would be transferred to the Department of Health (DOH). He said the Department of the Interior and Local Government would lead the implementation.

Espina said the  “conductor” for the capital region’s virus response cannot be the Inter-Agency Task Force Against COVID-19 as it oversees the country’s response nationwide.

The ONE Hospital Command, meantime, focuses on hospital transfers” and must be expanded to be a referral network beginning from community level, she said.

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