Duque says entry of Omicron variant to PH ‘a matter of when’

Robie de Guzman   •   November 30, 2021   •   326

MANILA, Philippines – Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III believes that it is only a matter of time before the newly discovered Omicron COVID-19 variant reaches the country.

“It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ okay? It’s a matter of ‘when’,” said Duque when asked by President Rodrigo Duterte on the possibility of the Omicron variant entering the Philippines.

“So talagang iyan po, papasok ‘yan just as we have experienced with Alpha, Beta, Delta among the more compelling variants of concern, Mr. President,” he added.

Duque said that with the looming threat of the highly mutated and potentially more contagious variant, the Philippine government should intensify its major interventions against COVID-19.

These include the strict enforcement of the minimum public health standards, including the continued wearing of face masks and even face shields.

“Ang talagang face shield ay under the three 3C — 3Cs context in the closed spaces, mga-face shield, in crowded areas, in close-contact settings just like in the transport sector where people as we have increased the carrying capacities of our public utility vehicles. I think now with the threat of this Omicron variant, it will be an added layer of protection that will really be good for the public,” he said.

Duque also underscored the need for the country to widen its vaccination coverage to achieve herd immunity and have an edge against the new coronavirus variant.

“Massive vaccination rollout under your directive, Mr. President; we need to really widen and increase the vaccination coverage to reach population protection,” he said.

“Of course, the first milestone by the end of December 31st, we hope to be able to completely jab 54 million Filipinos and then by February of 2022, we should be able to realistically achieve 77 million Filipinos to be completely inoculated,” he added.

He then emphasized the importance of strengthening and preparing the country’s health systems capacity.

“Let’s take advantage of our low number of cases and prepare the health systems capacity again for the worst-case scenario,” he said.

The Omicron variant has yet to be detected in the Philippines.

To prevent its entry into the country, the government has expanded the Red List of countries that have reported the presence of the variant.

The Philippine government has recently expanded the Red List to include Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy. This is in addition to South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique that were earlier placed in the Red List due to the threat of Omicron, which was first detected in the region.

The Red List, which is effective from November 28 until December 15, means that travelers, regardless of their vaccination status, coming from or who have been to the Red List areas within the last 14 days prior to their arrival will not be allowed to enter the Philippines.

Only Filipinos returning to the country via government-initiated or non-government-initiated repatriation and Bayanihan Flights may be allowed entry. However, they will be subject to the prevailing entry, testing, and quarantine protocols for Red List territories.

 

Absences of gov’t workers due to COVID-19 considered excused – CSC

Robie de Guzman   •   January 20, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – The absence from work of government personnel due to COVID-19 quarantine, isolation, or treatment will now be considered excused, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) said.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the CSC said the policy is contained in the amended interim guidelines on the use of leave credits for absences due to coronavirus infections.

The agency said that under Memorandum Circular 2, s. 2022 dated January 18, absence from work for every instance of the required quarantine period, isolation, and/or treatment for government workers who are “infected or identified as close contacts of a suspect, probable, and/or confirmed cases of COVID-19 while in the performance of their official functions, (onsite or WFH arrangement)” shall be considered as excused absence.

“They may be required to adopt a work-from-home arrangement depending on the nature of their work” pursuant to the guidelines on alternative work arrangements contained in the memorandum, the CSC said.

Previously, this provision only applied to public health workers, it added.

The CSC said excused absence refers to the period when a government worker is not required to report for work due to required quarantine period, isolation, and/or treatment, and/or announcement of work suspension, but are entitled to pay.

The required quarantine period refers to the prevailing number of days required for a person to undergo quarantine, or separation and restriction of movement while waiting for swab tests results or if the person will become sick.

Meanwhile, the isolation period refers to the separation of a person who is sick with a contagious disease for purposes of treatment and monitoring.

“Absences incurred from undergoing the required quarantine period, isolation, and/or treatment after official travel from countries with or without localized COVID-19 transmissions or from local areas under community quarantine are considered excused absences,” the CSC said.

“For personal travel, only the required quarantine period may be excused, while the isolation and/or treatment period shall be charged against leave credits,” it added.

Absence from work for every instance of the required quarantine period for government workers who are “infected or identified as close contacts of a suspect, probable, and/or confirmed cases of COVID-19 due to personal activities” shall also be considered an excused absence.

“In both categories, the employees may also be required to adopt a work-from-home arrangement while they are awaiting swab test results or completing the required quarantine period,” the CSC said.

“However, in the event that they become sick, the period of their isolation and/or treatment shall be considered sick leave and charged against their leave credits,” it added.

The agency noted that absences incurred from undergoing the required quarantine period, isolation, and/or treatment after personal international travel without approved travel authority before or after the declaration of a state of public health emergency due to COVID-19 shall be charged against leave credits.

Absences incurred from undergoing the required quarantine period, isolation, and/or treatment due to personal activities in violation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging and Infectious Diseases’ protocols, shall also be charged against leave credits, it added.

When returning to work, employees will be required to submit their application for leave, and applicable documents, including certificate of completion of quarantine, medical certificate clearing them to report back to work, and medical records showing COVID-19 treatment.

PH’s first 2 Omicron deaths were unvaccinated elderlies with co-morbidities – DOH

Robie de Guzman   •   January 19, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines has reported two fatalities linked to the COVID-19 Omicron variant, the Department of Health (DOH) said.

The DOH said the two death cases were “aged more than 60 years, unvaccinated, and had pre-existing medical conditions.”

“Both were detected during the latest whole genome sequencing,” the agency said in a message to reporters.

The two patients were from Metro Manila and Central Luzon.

These are the first reported fatalities among those infected with Omicron in the country, it added.

The DOH stressed that while the Omicron variant mostly presents with asymptomatic and mild disease, data showed that the elderly, those with comorbidities, and unvaccinated are still most at risk for fatalities.

The health department also reported that 492 more Omicron cases have been detected in the Philippines based on the latest whole genome sequencing involving 714 samples.

The newly reported Omicron cases are composed of 332 local cases and 160 returning overseas Filipinos.

The indicated addresses of the said cases were from the following areas:

  • National Capital Region with 227 cases
  • CALABARZON with 76 cases
  • Central Luzon with 11 cases
  • Central Visayas with 5 cases
  • Cagayan Valley with 2 cases
  • Western Visayas, with 2 cases
  • Davao Region with 2 cases
  • Soccsksargen with 2 cases
  • Cordillera Administrative Region with 2 cases
  • Ilocos Region with 1 case
  • MIMAROPA with 1 case
  • Bangsamoro region with 1 case

The DOH said that based on the case line list, three cases are still active, 467 cases have been tagged as recovered, while there are 20 cases whose outcomes are still being verified.

This brings the total number of confirmed Omicron variant cases in the country to 535.

ALAMIN: Magandang kumbinasyon ng COVID-19 vaccine primary at booster doses

Robie de Guzman   •   January 19, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – Target ngayon ng pamahalaan na mapalakas pa ang ginagawang COVID-19 vaccine booster administration sa gitna ng dumaraming kaso ng COVID-19 sa bansa at paglitaw ng mga bagong variant.

Bagaman sinasabi ng mga dalubhasa na epektibo ang lahat ng brand ng anti-COVID-19 vaccines na available sa Pilipinas, nagbigay pa rin ng ilang rekomendasyon ang mga eksperto sa bakuna kung ano ang magandang kombinasyon ng primary dose at booster shot.

Ayon kay Infectious Disease Doctor Rontgene Solante, miyembro ng Vaccine Expert Panel, base sa pag-aaral mas mataas ang naidadagdag sa antibody level sa mga indibidwal na nakatanggap ng primary dose ng Sinovac, na nagpa-booster shot ng ibang brand gaya ng Astrazeneca, Janssen at Pfizer.

“All the heterologous regimes had spike antibody response at day 28 that were superior to homologous booster. Ang ibig sabihin nito, ‘yung nakatanggap ng Astra, Janssen and Pfizer vaccine, mas mataas yung antibody level nila kumpara doon sa nakatanggap ng sinovac as a third dose,” ani Solante.

Habang ang mga nagpabakuna naman ng AstraZeneca para sa primary dose ay magkakaroon nang mas mataas na antas ng antibody kung homologous o kaparehong brand rin ang ipina-booster shot.

“They also look at the 3rd dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine that were given to those who were initially received the AstraZeneca vaccine. They found out that antibody titers were significantly higher,” ani Solante.

“When the third dose was given using the homologous booster using the AstraZeneca nakita natin na it went up, mas doble,” dagdag pa niya.

Bukod dito, nakita rin umano sa mga pag-aaral na tumataas ang immune response ng isang tao na nakatanggap ng primary series ng Pfizer at Moderna, na nagpa-booster shot ng AstraZeneca.

“They got positive results from a preliminary analysis. It showed that this vaccine the variant-specific vaccine given as a third booster dose can increase immune response to Alpha, Beta and you also have against Delta and then Gamma,” ang wika ni Solante.

“The main point here is that with variant-specific vaccine, it can be protective against that variant and have cross-protection against other variants of concern,” giit pa nito.

Dagdag pa ni Solante, kahit pa man Beta variant-specific vaccine ang AstraZeneca, nakatutulong pa rin ito para pataasin ang antibody response laban sa Omicron variant.

Samantala, ayon naman kay vaccine expert Dr. Mario Jiz, magandang kombinasyon rin ang AstraZeneca bilang primary dose habang Pfizer o Moderna naman ang ikatlong dose.

“mRNA vaccines are the newer generation of vaccines so they are known to be very, very robust antibody responders so these vaccines especially si Moderna which is yung amount niya kasi is much higher compared to Pfizer eh… We really expect that mRNA vaccines will induce very high antibody levels,” ani Jiz.

Isa rin sa ipinunto ni Dr. Jiz, ang kahalagahan ng pagpapabakuna kahit primary series pa lamang upang magkaroon na kahit papaano ng proteksyon laban sa COVID-19.

Samantala, muli namang nag-paalala ang DOH at vaccine experts sa publiko na samantalahin na ang pagpapabakuna upang maiwasan ang pag-mutate ng virus, at pagkakaospital at matinding sintomas sakaling tamaan ng COVID-19.

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