Duterte offers DOH Secy post to OCTA fellow

Robie de Guzman   •   December 7, 2021   •   359

 

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has offered OCTA Research fellow Nicanor Austriaco the top post in the Department of Health (DOH) to replace Secretary Francisco Duque III.

During his weekly Talk to the People that aired late Monday, Duterte asked Austriaco if he is open to being designated as the new health chief.

“I would be happy to appoint you as the Secretary of Health. If that is okay with you,” he said after Austriaco finished his presentation on the Omicron COVID-19 variant during the public briefing.

Austriaco declined the offer.

“No po. Secretary Duque is doing a fine job po and he’s a Thomasian po,” he said.

Duterte pressed on with his offer, saying Duque has been asking to be replaced.

“He has shown — he vents a desire really to rest, you know, after all this ruckus against him,” the president said. “Sabi ko I’ve been forcing him to stay but he would be happy to give way to you, I’m sure.”

“Yes, Mr. President, to another Thomasian,” Duque chimed in.

Austriaco, a priest and a molecular biologist, is also part of the team developing the Philippines’ first vaccine against COVID-19.

 

NCR pharmacies, clinics to offer AstraZeneca, Sinovac boosters – DOH Exec

Robie de Guzman   •   January 20, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – Drugstores and clinics participating in the government’s “Resbakuna sa Botika” program will initially offer COVID-19 vaccine booster brands made by Sinovac and AstraZeneca, an official from the Department of Health (DOH) said Thursday.

In a public briefing, Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje said these vaccine boosters will be offered during the program’s pilot implementation as these do not require special storage.

“Initially, ang ibibigay natin ay Sinovac at saka AstraZeneca. Kasi dapat maging gamay ng ating mga pharmacies, iyong magbabakuna iyong mga bakuna,” said Cabotaje, who also chairs the National Vaccination Operations Center (NVOC).

“Kaya inumpisahan muna natin ng Sinovac at saka AstraZeneca, kasi puwede sa regular refrigerator iyong tinatawag nating domestic,” she added.

Cabotaje said other vaccine brands like Pfizer and Moderna that require sensitive handling may be deployed after the pilot run.

“And then, after the phase 1 or the phase 2, tingnan natin kung puwede nang bigyan ng ibang bakuna, kasi iyong Pfizer at saka iyong Moderna, kaunting sensitive handling,” she said.

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine can be stored at -80 degrees Celsius, -20 degrees Celsius, and 2 to 8 degrees Celsius. Moderna vaccine may be stored in a freezer set at -50 and -15 degrees Celsius.

The government rolled out its “Resbakuna sa Botika” program on Thursday in select pharmacies and clinics in the capital region as part of efforts to ramp up the vaccination campaign in the country.

Cabotaje said the program will be expanded to areas outside Metro Manila by February.

“After the first rollout, after one week and evaluation, NCR-wide muna tayo and then after NCR-wide, siguro by second week or third week of February, puwede nating umpisahan sa iba’t ibang panig ng ating bansa, based on the readiness assessment of our regional offices. Kung sino ang willing at ready,” she said.

The government said the program aims to assist local government units and the Department of Health with additional personnel for vaccination. It will also help decentralize the inoculation by having smaller but widely spread vaccination sites in the form of drugstores.

Duterte names new chiefs for AFP Western, Northern Luzon commands

Robie de Guzman   •   January 19, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has designated new chiefs for the Northern Luzon and Western Commands of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Malacañang said Wednesday.

In a statement, the Palace said Duterte has approved the appointment of Rear Admiral Alberto Carlos, the current commander of the Philippine Navy, as the new chief of the AFP Western Command.

He will replace Rear Admiral Roberto Enriquez starting January 24.

Duterte also appointed Major General Ernesto Torres Jr., the current commander of the Philippine Army 10th Infantry Division, as the new chief of the AFP Northern Luzon Command.

He will replace Lieutenant General Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr. effective January 7.

“We wish both officers all the best in their new tours of duty, and we are confident that they will continue to perform their mandate to serve our people and to secure our nation with professionalism, integrity, and dedicated service,” the Palace said.

In a separate statement, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana welcomed the appointment of the new officers to the two commands of the AFP “tasked with protecting the country’s northern and western frontiers.”

Lorenzana also confirmed the assumption of Major General Nestor Herico as the new commandant of the Philippine Marine Corps effective February 21. He will replace retiring Major General Ariel Caculitan.

“As these gentlemen assume their new roles in the organization, I am confident that they will rise to the occasion and effectively lead our troops in securing our nation and our people,” the DND chief said.

DOH updates isolation, quarantine times for COVID-19 cases, close contacts

Robie de Guzman   •   January 13, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) has disclosed that the protocols for the isolation and quarantine durations for confirmed cases of COVID-19 and close contacts have been updated amid the rapidly rising number of infections in the country.

During a Zoom presentation published on Wednesday, DOH Spokesperson, Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the isolation period for fully vaccinated persons with mild COVID-19 will now be shortened from 10 days to seven days from onset of symptoms.

For fully vaccinated asymptomatic cases, the isolation period will be seven days from their positive RT-PCR test result.

“Ten days isolation is retained for those that are partially or unvaccinated, and those with moderate symptoms regardless of vaccination status,” Vergeire said.

“Meanwhile, the isolation period has been retained to 21 days for those with severe and critical disease, and those immunocompromised as outlined by the living CTG panel,” she added.

Vergeire said that for fully vaccinated health workers with boosters, their isolation duration can be shortened to five days by hospital infection prevention and control committee and/or provincial health offices upon careful assessment of benefits and risk.

“They shall also be expanded to other sectors with strict industry standards on IPC subject with IATF approval,” she added.

The quarantine period for fully vaccinated asymptomatic close contacts, Vergeire said, will be shortened to five days from the previous seven days.

“For the quarantine of asymptomatic close contacts for the general public, policies are to be from seven days, we shortened it to five days for those who are fully vaccinated, and we retained 14 days for partially or unvaccinated individuals,” Vergeire said.

“All individuals should also be reminded to continue monitoring their symptoms, wear their mask, and implement minimum public health standards for 14 days,” she added.

The quarantine period for fully vaccinated health workers will be cut short to five days while those with boosters may no longer undergo quarantine period

A note on the slide showing the update quarantine period stated that this is still subject to IATF approval/DOH guidelines.

The DOH said isolation is for individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 while quarantine is for those who have been exposed and can possibly develop infection.

Vergeire also said that the testing of asymptomatic close contacts would not be required unless they developed symptoms.

“For healthcare workers that are considered asymptomatic close contacts, for the sake of uniformity, they will follow the five days quarantine similar to the general public, provided, they are fully vaccinated,” she said.

The DOH would also retain that the hospital prevention and control committees could further shorten the healthcare workers’ quarantine with boosters depending on the situations, risks, and benefits, she added.

During the presentation, Vergeire said the update in the DOH guidelines was “deemed necessary” because “the differences in guidelines for quarantine and isolation of travelers, the general public, and specific sectors like healthcare workers had been causing confusion on the ground.”

She also said that amid the continuous rise in the number of cases, most of these remain asymptomatic and mild, which showed the effectiveness of the vaccines against severe COVID-19.

Patients who contracted the Omicron variant also showed milder symptoms that those that caught the Delta variant.

“The prolonged quarantine and isolation duration has been causing strain to our healthcare system and our economy,” Vergeire said.

“Our experts believed that specifically in the Omicron variant the benefits of shortening the quarantine outweighs the risk,” she added.

Vergeire also noted that other countries were also updating their protocols on quarantine and isolation periods.

“While the US CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is the most aggressive example by bringing down their isolation and quarantine periods to five days, we also see other countries moving down from 14 days to 10 days,” she said.

“The updated policy of the Philippines attempts to find acceptable standards give our current context and allow more flexibility to groups and sectors that can strictly implement infection, prevention, and control procedures,” she added.

Vergeire said the updated policy will be issued in the next few days after it has been presented to and approved by the IATF.

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