DOH urges employers to strictly implement health protocols in workplaces

Robie de Guzman   •   July 8, 2020   •   273

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday called on employers from both the public and private sectors to strictly enforce minimum health standards to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in workplaces.

In a virtual press forum, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said they issued the appeal after investigation by the DOH Epidemiology Team revealed there were lapses in the implementation of health protocols in some offices that reported COVID-19 cases.

The minimum health standards set by the government’s task force against COVID-19 include the wearing of face mask, observing physical distancing, among others.

“Bagama’t may physical distancing, mask and all pero kapag kumakain magkakasama sa pantry so noong pumutok ang impeksyon nakita na maybe some of them who ate in that pantry became positive,” she said.

Vergeire stressed that employers should make sure that these health protocols are strictly followed to prevent the transmission of the viral respiratory disease among their employees who physically report to work.

Amid the rising number of employees contracting coronavirus disease, the health official said the agency is discussing the conduct of random testing of workers as recommended by the research group from the University of the Philippines (UP).

The UP Research Team earlier made the proposal after more than 200 personnel of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) line 3 tested positive for COVID-19.

Vergeire said the DOH is still weighing on the proposal as randomized testing is “resource intensive” and the country has limited resources amid the pandemic.

“Hindi ko pa alam kung kakayanin ng ating sistema, yung sinasabing randomized testing,” she said.

“And, for how long will do we do this, di ba? So pag ginawa natin iyan, sabi nga natin ang ating testing is a point in time event. So pag tinest kita ngayon, maaring bukas may bago ka ng exposure, itetest ba kita uli?” she added.

Vergeire also admitted that conducting contact tracing among MRT-3 passengers would be difficult given the number of people who ride the trains every day.

She said the DOH and the Inter-Agency Task Force are now studying other measures that may be implemented on mass transport apart from temporarily suspending operations.

“Kapag talagang widespread ang community transmission, ‘yung contact tracing hindi na talaga nagwo-work yan,” she said.

“Dito sa nangyari sa MRT na ito, gumagawa tayo ng ibang strategies for us to be able na ma-contain natin. Unang-una nagsara ang MRT. Pangalawa, lahat ng empleyadong apektado pati yung close contacts nila were all quarantined. Pangatlo, they are still trying to gather para ma-test pa rin yung ibang employees nila para somehow ma-contain natin,” she added.

Vergeire also stated that the DOH will release a new set of guidelines on COVID-19 expanded testing which will include more groups and individuals.

Under the current DOH protocol, COVID-19 tests are conducted on individuals manifesting symptoms, with exposure to COVID-19 positive patients, returning overseas Filipino workers as well as frontline workers. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Aiko Miguel)

Duterte may be injected with Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine by May 2021 – Palace

Robie de Guzman   •   August 13, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte may be inoculated with Russia-made vaccine against novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in May 2021, Malacañang said on Thursday.

In a televised press briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte could get Sputnik V vaccine shots as early as May 1 provided that the vaccine is already approved by the country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“The May 1 is when the PSG [Presidential Security Group] may allow him ‘pag natapos na po lahat ng test na kinakailangang gawin dito sa Gamaleya vaccine,” he said.

Duterte earlier said he is willing to participate in the clinical trials for Sputnik V.

Base on the timeline presented by Roque, the vaccine expert panel will review the results of phases 1 and 2 of the Sputnik V’s clinical trials this September.

The Philippines and Russia will conduct simultaneous phase 3 clinical trials which will run until March 2021. The Russian government is expected to shoulder the costs.

The vaccine will then have to go through the registration process with the FDA in April 2021.

Roque, however, stressed that the vaccine could become available in the market earlier since other organizations are also in advanced stages of conducting clinical trials.

“Baka mayroon pang ibang mauna dahil marami namang pong nasa third phase ng clinical trials at matagal na po silang nasa 3rd phase,” he said.

Dr. Jaime Montoya, executive director of the Philippine Council for Health Research, said that if no problems will be encountered on the efficacy of Russia-made vaccine during the trials, the Sputnik V vaccine could be rolled out for commercial use in the Philippines by April 2021.

Montoya is part of the team of Philippine health and vaccine experts who met with the manufacturer and scientists who developed the Sputnik V.

Russia on Tuesday announced it is the first country to grant regulatory approval to a vaccine after less than two months of human testing.

The announcement raised concerns from some international scientists about the safety of the vaccine.

The World Health Organization said Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine should first undergo the necessary evaluation process before it could become available for public use. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

Immigration personnel with COVID-19 reach 46, says BI chief

Robie de Guzman   •   August 12, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Wednesday reported that 46 of its employees have tested positive for novel coronavirus disease.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said that of the 46 personnel infected with the virus, nine have already recovered while 37 are still housed in government-accredited quarantine facilities.

Half of those who contracted the virus are currently assigned at the BI main office in Intramuros, Manila while the rest are stationed in other places such as the international airports in Pasay and Cebu, and the bureau’s satellite and extension offices in Metro Manila, and elsewhere nationwide, he added.

“The good news is that, so far, none of our employees have succumbed to the virus,” Morente said in a statement.

He also said that only one of the bureau’s employees with confirmed COVID-19 infection is presently confined and recovering in a hospital.

The BI Chief also said that the bureau had 93 suspected COVID-19 cases among its workers but half of them were already cleared of the virus after undergoing home quarantine.

Morente said the public should not be surprised that some BI employees were infected by the virus.

“We are one of the few government agencies whose personnel render frontline services, not only in our offices, but in the ports of entry as well. It is unavoidable that some of our employees do come in contact or are exposed to persons who are carriers of this virus,” he said.

The bureau earlier announced that it scaled down operations as Metro Manila and other areas reverted to modified enhanced community quarantine.

However, it assured that its online appointment system remains open to foreigners who are scheduled to leave the country during the community quarantine period.

Healthcare workers involved in selling of blood plasma will face sanctions — DOH

Aileen Cerrudo   •   August 11, 2020

Health workers will face sanctions if it is proven that they are involved in the sale of convalescent plasma of COVID-19 survivors, the Department of Health (DOH) warned.

Investigation of the Health Department showed several hospital staff in Cebu City are involved in the illegal trade of blood plasma. The DOH said there are only four facilities authorized to collect plasma from COVID-19 survivors: The Philippine Blood Center, Philippine Red Cross in Port Area, St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig and Quezon City, and UP-PGH in Manila.

Based on the DOH Administrative Order No. 36 Section 46, a medical professional proven to be involved in illegal activities could have his or her license revoked.

“Recommendation to revoke the certificate of registration or to suspend said certificate to practice the profession and to invalidate the professional license of any health professional involved in misrepresentation of facts or falsification of documents or records especially medical, laboratory or inspection results and certificates, or in violation of R.A. No. 7719 and the herein Rules, by the Professional Regulation Commission upon recommendation of the Secretary,” according to the administrative order.

DOH Spokesperson Usec. Maria Rosario Vergeire reminds the public that buying plasma from unauthorized individuals is dangerous due to lack of proper screening by health professionals.

“Maraming sakit pa na nata-transmit if we sell our blood lalo na iyon mga hindi na screen (There are a lot of diseases that can be transmitted if we sell our blood, especially when it is not screened),” she said. AAC (with reports from Aiko Miguel)

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