IATF urged to draw up ‘battle plan’ to decongest hospitals amid COVID-19 surge

Robie de Guzman   •   March 29, 2021   •   417

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Joel Villanueva has called on the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) to expand its protocols for the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the NCR Plus bubble with an “urgent plan” to keep hospitals from being “completely overwhelmed” by the recent surge of COVID-19 cases.

“Hospitals are hanging ‘No admission for COVID patients’ signs. Sa isang pasyenteng naghihingalo, ito na po ang pinakamasakit mong mababasa. Ano kaya po ang magandang solusyon dito?” Villanueva said in a statement issued Sunday.

 Villanueva, who chairs the Senate labor committee, noted that the “battle plan” to help hospitals in distress was “absent” in the IATF guidelines for the week-long ECQ re-imposed in the National Capital Region (NCR), Rizal, Bulacan, Cavite, and Laguna.

“Mukhang ito po ang missing link doon sa IATF advisory. Sana naman maihabol ito kaagad. If hospitals were ER patients, this is the urgent cure and care they require,” Villanueva said.

Describing hospitals as the “ground zero” of the pandemic, the senator said these facilities should not be left to deal with the surge of COVID-19 patients on their own.

Villanueva also noted that some Metro Manila hospitals have been releasing statements indicating they have reached maximum capacity to deal with COVID-19 cases and could no longer admit more patients.

Citing health department data as of March 26, the senator said that of the “total 159 hospitals in the NCR, about 40 of them are now in a critical state with more than 85% occupancy of their ICU beds, isolation beds, ward beds, and the use of ventilators, while 25 are considered “high risk” with 75% to 80% occupancy.”

“While the Holy Week ECQ is a circuit breaker to stop the surge of patients, the problem our hospitals are facing cannot be solved from the demand side alone,” he said.

Villanueva also called on the government to help hospitals replenish their stocks of medicines being used for COVID-19 patients.

“Halimbawa po: Paano po makakatulong ang gobyerno sa pag-restock ng mga hospital pharmacies ng mga COVID-19 medicine tulad ng remdevisir at tocilizumab. Kailangan na po ba nating mag-SOS sa mga kapitbahay natin sa ASEAN?” he said.

“Siguro isa po ito sa mga bagay na dapat isinama ng IATF sa kanilang guidelines sa pagpapatupad ng ECQ,” he added.

The Food and Drug Administration earlier assured that additional stocks of medicines used to treat COVID-19 patients are on hand and are expected to be delivered within this week.

No need to wear face shields outdoors, Palace says

Robie de Guzman   •   June 21, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The public no longer needs to wear face shields in outdoor settings except for places with many people like public markets and public transportation, Malacañang said Monday.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) only appealed for the mandatory wearing of face shields in indoor places such as malls and other commercial establishments.

“Sa mga nagtatanong kung kailangan pa ba ang face shield, ang malinaw po ganito, hindi na kinakailangan ng face shield sa labas kasi hindi naman inapela ‘yan ng IATF,” Roque said in a Palace briefing.

Ang inapela lang ng IATF ay ‘yung pagsuot ng face shields sa loob kasama na sa mga malls at iba pang commercial establishments at sa mga pampublikong transportasyon,” he added.

Roque said the policy on the use of face shields will be discussed in the weekly “Talk to the People” address of President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night.

“Mamayang gabi ay magkakaroon ng Talk to the People address kung saan ang polisiya sa face shield ang isa sa mga pag-uusapan,” he said.

Roque last week said that the IATF has recommended to the president to continue requiring the use of face shields in indoor or enclosed spaces like hospitals, schools, workplaces, commercial establishments (such as but not limited to food establishments, malls, and public markets), public transport and terminals, and places of worship.

The task force made the recommendation after Duterte remarked about the use of face shields only in hospitals during his conversation with some senators.

Pending Duterte’s decision on the matter, the Palace said the face shield policy will remain in effect.

PH increases annual overseas deployment cap of new hire healthcare workers

Robie de Guzman   •   June 18, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government has adjusted the annual ceiling on the deployment of newly hired healthcare workers abroad, Malacañang said Friday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) increased the number of healthcare workers that can be deployed abroad from 5,000 to 6,500.

The new cap in annual overseas deployment of healthcare workers was approved by the IATF in a meeting on Thursday.

The adjusted ceiling covers health workers who perform mission critical skills (MCS) with perfected contracts as of May 31, 2021.

“Healthcare workers under government-to-government labor agreements shall, however, be exempted from this adjusted ceiling,” Roque said in a statement.

The new policy comes after the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) suspended the deployment of medical professionals after the 5,000 annual ceiling for new hires was reached on June 1.

IATF to meet Thursday to discuss face shield policy – Nograles

Robie de Guzman   •   June 17, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) is set to meet on Thursday afternoon to discuss the government’s response to COVID-19 pandemic.

In a message, IATF co-chairperson and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said among the topics that will be tackled in the meeting is the use of face shields.

“May IATF kami mamaya. Pag-uusapan namin,” he said.

The policy on face shield wearing made headlines anew after Senate President Vicente Sotto III and other lawmakers shared with the public their conversation with President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang on Wednesday about the limited use of face shield.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque later confirmed the lawmakers’ statements that the president did say that face shields should only be worn in hospitals.

Roque said the president’s decision becomes a policy but there is a possibility that the IATF will appeal if the face shield rule will be loosened.

Nograles assured they will immediately announce if there are any changes in health protocols.

“If there is any announcement sa bagong protocol, ilalabas namin,” he said.

Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega earlier said that shields may be removed when outdoors.

Under existing protocols, face shields are required to be worn in the following areas:

  • Enclosed public spaces
  • Schools
  • Workplaces
  • Commercial establishments
  • Public transport and terminals
  • Places of worship

Face shields should also be worn in other areas where one-meter physical distancing is not possible and there is a gathering of more than 10 people at the same venue at the same time.

OCTA Research fellow and Biological Sciences Professor Nicanor Austriaco also said that face shields offer a certain degree of protection against COVID-19 especially in areas with high infection rate.

“Especially now in those areas undergoing surge, I recommend in high-risk areas whether there is surge, the 9% may be important. But here in Metro Manila, for example, when you are outside and there is no-one around you, I think it is reasonable to say that lowering the risk by 9% maybe something we’re able to tolerate in order to mitigate some of the burden that we have for the Filipino people,” he said.

The Department of Health earlier rejected proposals to drop the use of face shields, as the country’s COVID-19 vaccination coverage remains low.

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