New Zealand’s health minister resigns after coronavirus criticism

UNTV News   •   July 2, 2020   •   497

New Zealand’s embattled Health Minister David Clark resigned on Thursday (July 2) after security slip-ups at quarantine facilities where the coronavirus was detected just days after officials declared it had been eliminated from the country.

Clark was also under fire for personally breaching strict lockdown rules twice earlier in the year, by taking his family on a beach trip and driving to a mountain biking track.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who had earlier refused calls to sack Clark, citing his critical role in the country’s response to the pandemic, said she agreed with his decision.

Recent opinion polls have Ardern’s Labour Party far ahead of its main rival National Party, putting it on track to win a Sept. 19 general election, but public confidence in her government has been undermined by a series of blunders.

Ardern had declared in early June that New Zealand had eliminated coronavirus, although she warned there would almost certainly be new cases, as she lifted social distancing restrictions.

Just days later it was revealed that two women who arrived from Britain who were allowed to leave quarantine early on compassionate grounds later tested positive for the virus.

Ardern appointed Education Minister Chris Hipkins as interim health minister until the September election, after which she said she would consider a permanent replacement. (Reuters)

(Production: James Redmayne)

Senators want pilot testing of 100 schools for in-person classes

Robie de Guzman   •   February 25, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Several senators are pushing for the conduct of pilot testing of face-to-face classes, citing the need for immediate experience to help fine-tune the reopening of physical classes in schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Senator Francis Pangilinan urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to pilot the in-person classes to an initial 100 schools instead of the suggested 1,605.

“Kung mayroong UK variant at natatakot doon sa pagkalat, e di bawasan natin ang pilot areas, gawin nating isang daan muna. Ang importante, mayroon tayong pagkukunan ng karanasan ngayon pa lang at hindi iyong pagdating doon sa dulo saka natin gagawin dahil nakaangkla tayo sa isang libo,” Pangilinan said in a statement.

DepEd Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan earlier said that they initially chose 1,065 schools, or five schools per division, to participate in the dry run of face-to-face classes.

Malaluan said that this figure is equivalent to only over two percent of the more than 47,000 public schools in the country.

“Baka naman pupuwedeng mayroon kayong alternative just to be able to get a system going and be able to fine-tune. Ang importante napa-pilot at nakikita iyong mga gaps so that when you expand it even to 1,065, you already have the experience of 500 or 300 to work around and to work on the necessary adjustments,” Pangilinan said.

“We need the experience now, we need the lessons drawn now because we don’t have the luxury of time,” he added.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chairperson of Senate committee on basic education, arts, and culture, also expressed support for the dry run of in-person classes.

“’’Di naman po ibig sabihin na kinancel yung face-to-face, titigil na rin tayo sa pilot schools. This is a good way for our scientists to study what can be done to mitigate the effects of COVID-19,” he said in a separate statement.

DepEd earlier proposed the pilot testing of limited face-to-face classes in 1,605 schools, citing an internal DepEd survey that clamor is from the learners themselves.

The pilot testing was scheduled in January but it was postponed by President Rodrigo Duterte due to the continuing threat of COVID-19.

DepEd made a fresh bid for the resumption of physical classes in areas classified as low-risk for COVID-19 transmission this month, citing a survey that showed more than 50% of students were in favor of attending face-to-face classes.

It was still rejected by Duterte as he stressed that classes will only resume once the vaccination against COVID-19 starts.

Global COVID-19 cases continue to decline, WHO says

Robie de Guzman   •   February 16, 2021

The number of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases reported globally continues to decline, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

In a regular press briefing in Geneva on Monday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the decline in global COVID-19 cases has been observed for the fifth consecutive week.

Tedros said that so far this year, the number of weekly reported cases has fallen by almost half, from more than 5 million cases in the week of January 4 to 2.6 million cases in the week starting February 8.

“This shows that simple public health measures work, even in the presence of variants,” he said.

Tedros, however, stressed that what matters now is how the world will respond to this trend.

“The fire is not out, but we have reduced its size. If we stop fighting it on any front, it will come roaring back,” he said.

In the hopes of bringing the pandemic under control, Tedros said the WHO has given emergency use listing for two versions of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to be rolled out globally through COVAX facility.

The WHO emergency use listing assesses and assures the quality, safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, and is a prerequisite for vaccines to be distributed by COVAX.

In addition to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, these are now the second and third vaccines to receive emergency use listing.

“We now have all the pieces in place for the rapid distribution of vaccines. But we still need to scale-up production, and we continue to call for vaccine developers to submit their dossiers to WHO for review at the same time as they submit them to regulators in high-income countries,” Tedros said.

The WHO chief emphasized that ensuring the rapid and equitable rollout of vaccines is essential in saving lives and livelihoods, as well as stabilizing health systems and economies.

PH gov’t to roll out COVID-19 vaccination program starting February 15 – Palace

Robie de Guzman   •   February 8, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government is eyeing to roll out its COVID-19 vaccination program starting February 15, Malacañang announced.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said among the first to receive the vaccines are healthcare workers from hospitals that serve as main COVID-19 referral facilities including the Philippine General Hospital, East Avenue Medical Center, and the Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Metro Manila.

The incoming initial batch of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech totaling 117,000 doses will be used for the inoculation of healthcare workers included in the initial master list from hospitals, he added.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine supply under the COVAX facility is expected to arrive in the second or third week of February.

The government aims to complete the administration of vaccines to healthcare workers in less than a month.

“So, inaasahan po natin na sa buong linggong ito, sa buong buwan na darating ay at least lahat iyong medical frontliners at saka iyong immediate na may priority ay at least nasimulan na. Pero definitely, hindi po aabot ng isang buwan para matapos natin ang lahat ng mga medical frontliners,” Roque said.

The government is aiming to vaccinate up to 70 million people against COVID-19 this year, with priority given to healthcare workers, senior citizens, the indigent population, and uniformed personnel. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

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