No COVID-19 case recorded so far in face-to-face classes – DepEd

Robie de Guzman   •   November 24, 2021   •   379

MANILA, Philippines – No cases of COVID-19 have been reported so far in public schools participating in the pilot implementation of limited in-person learning, the Department of Education (DepEd) said Tuesday.

“Sa unang linggo po ng ating pagpapatupad ng pilot limited face-to-face ay wala po tayong naitalang kaso ng covid sa mga lugar na ito,” DepEd Assistant Secretary Malcolm Garma said in a press briefing.

It has been a week since the department started the pilot testing of face-to-face classes in 100 schools in areas with low-risk classification for COVID-19.

The department, however, noted that some schools found it challenging to get students to strictly adhere to health and safety protocols as some children, especially those in kindergarten, tend to take off their face masks.

Others also tend to forget physical distancing as they interact with their classmates.

“Talagang hirap yung ating mga kindergarten learners na isuot yung kanilang mga maskara sa mahabang panahon, maya’t maya inaalis nung ating maliliit na mag-aaral,” Education Secretary Leonor Briones said.

But the DepEd said such behavior is expected among children since they are not used to wearing masks for long periods, and they were not allowed to go out of their homes due to the pandemic.

“Dito papasok yung role ng ating mga guro na continuously magpapaalala sa ating mga mag-aaral at sa iba pa na talagang iyong social o physical distancing ang pinakamahalagang bagay para masegurong walang mahahawa,” Garma said.

The DepEd reported that out of 70,000 listed students, over 70 deferred their attendance to physical classes for having flu-like symptoms prior to the program’s implementation.

Briones said these students will not be asked to undergo swab testing.

“Ayaw naman nating i-swab yung mga bata e… We might trigger accidents sinabi ko na yan e tutusukin mo yung (bata), sisipain ka ng bata o sisigaw, wala na. we will create more trauma for the child and also trigger accidents,” she said.

The DepEd earlier said it has prepared a contingency plan with recommended actions for various scenarios, which range from where there is a suspected case presenting symptoms, to a scenario where there is resurgence of COVID-19 cases in multiple barangays. This sets the policy on when schools should impose a lockdown.

Aside from public schools, 20 private schools have also been selected for the program. They started their pilot face-to face classes on November 22.

More schools are expected to participate in the next phase of the limited face-to-face classes, including those in the National Capital Region, depending on the result of DOH’s risk assessment.

The expansion phase is slated to begin by March 2022, based on DepEd’s timeline. (with details from Correspondent Janice Ingente)

Concepcion wants Philippines’ COVID-19 quarantine rules revisited

Robie de Guzman   •   January 21, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion on Friday suggested for the government’s task force on COVID-19 response to revisit its quarantine protocols for international travel in light of recent developments in the COVID-19 situation in the country.

In a statement, Concepcion said quarantine restrictions for international travel should be re-examined, noting that other countries, particularly Switzerland and Thailand, have started easing restrictions to allow entry of international visitors.

 “It is quite understandable that public health should be the primary concern of governments. But as COVID itself changes, policy should be also open to re-examination,” he said.

Specifically, Concepcion believes that facility-based quarantines and the use of RT-PCR tests need to be revisited.

“The entry requirements are so extensive and complicated that they put the country out of the reach of international visitors, and even our returning kababayans,” said Concepcion.

He added that when it comes to air travel, the focus should be on testing, and testing fast and accurately.

“The goal is to find out if a passenger is infected, and if not, to send him on his way as fast as possible and not create bottlenecks,” he said.

Thailand recently announced that it will resume its quarantine-free visa program for vaccinated visitors. Switzerland, meanwhile, will not require pre-arrival COVID-19 tests for vaccinated or recovered visitors.

Concepcion also noted that the United States does not require specifically the use of RT-PCR tests or facility quarantines for arriving passengers.

“Inbound passengers to the US only need a negative result from an antiviral test, not necessarily an RT-PCR, taken no more than 24 hours before departure. Rapid tests are acceptable as long as they meet the requirements of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” he said.

“This remains true even following the emergence of the Omicron variant. The US does not require facility-based quarantines for international passengers arriving in the US,” he added.

Currently, the Philippines is implementing travel conditions depending on the passenger’s point of origin and vaccination status. All arriving passengers must test negative from an RT-PCR taken 48 hours before departure. Except for fully vaccinated travelers coming from the 32 countries in its Green list, all passengers get swabbed again after having spent at least five days in facility-based quarantine.

Concepcion believes that the Philippines “can do the job with only an antigen test taken 24 hours prior to departure,” saying that “testing closer to the time of departure using an antigen test is more practical than waiting for RT-PCR test results.”

He said RT-PCR test results take longer to deliver results and are more expensive.

As an additional safeguard, he suggested conducting second antigen tests upon arrival, and home-based quarantines instead of facility-based quarantines to allow returning Filipinos to spend more time with their family.

“Our OFWs can’t afford to spend their hard-earned money and precious time to spend days in facility quarantine,” he said.

“Other countries seem to have already accepted the fact that COVID is here to stay. Maybe it’s time we practice living with COVID or else the Philippine economy will suffer and along with it, its MSMEs,” he added.

Concepcion said that the survival of businesses and industries in the Philippines depends largely on government policy.

“This is also quite true of other industries that are downstream from air travel, not the least of which are the tourism and hotel and restaurant sectors. Many MSMEs depend on the trickle-down business generated by air travel,” he said.

“Our economy can’t shut itself from taking any more lockdowns as our country’s debts continue to mount. Time is not on our side,” he added.

Concepcion said the country should move on after taking the necessary steps by vaccinating and boosting the population.

“But these are baby steps. We need to take that leap of faith. While vaccines are the solution to keeping a healthy nation, learning to live with COVID will revive our economy and bring life back to our MSMEs,” he said.

Philippines posts 32,744 new COVID-19 infections

Robie de Guzman   •   January 21, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines on Friday logged 32,744 additional COVID-19 cases, the Department of Health (DOH) said.

In its latest data, the DOH said 31,456 of the new cases occurred within the last two weeks.

Regions that reported high cases in the recent 14 days were the National Capital Region, CALABARZON, and Central Luzon.

Active infections stood at 291,618 – 9,015 of which are asymptomatic, 277,833 are mild, 2,979 are moderate, 1,487 are severe, and 304 are in critical condition.

The positivity rate was at 44% based on the 75,335 tests administered on January 19.

Meanwhile, 16,385 more patients recovered from the COVID-19, raising the total to 3,012,156.

COVID-related deaths rose to 53,309 with 156 new fatalities.

Three laboratories were not able to submit their data on time. These facilities contribute on average 0.8% of all samples tested and 0.9% of positive individuals.

DOH data also showed that 51% of beds in the intensive care units are in use nationwide, and 49% in the National Capital Region (NCR).

The utilization rate of isolation beds across the country was at 52%, and 48% in the NCR.

About 24% of ventilators are in use nationwide, and 27% in the capital region.

PH gov’t to tap transportation hubs as COVID-19 vaccination sites

Robie de Guzman   •   January 21, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government is eyeing to use transport terminals and tollways as COVID-19 vaccination sites in a bid to expand its immunization program and curb infections, Malacañang said Friday.

In a press briefing, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the Department of Transportation (DOTr) is set to open a vaccination drive in transportation hubs, starting at the Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange (PITX) from January 24 to 28.

Nograles said around 500 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines will be available daily for transport workers and commuters. Registration will be done on site and walk-ins will be entertained.

“Ang programang ito ay sadyang ihahandog natin para sa mga transport worker at commuter,” he said.

The DOTr earlier said that the vaccination activity at the PITX, dubbed as “We Vax as One: Mobile Vaccination Drive,” will be conducted for five days from 8 a.m. to 12 noon.

Nograles also said that vaccination sites will also be launched soon at other transport hubs.

“Sa mga susunod na araw din po ay ilulusad ng DOTr ang vaccination sites sa mga istasyon ng tren, mga pantalan at maging sa tollways,” he said.

The government earlier said it will ramp up the vaccination efforts by employing strategies such as opening jab sites in smaller venues such as pharmacies and private clinics.

On Thursday, January 20, authorities started the week-long rollout of booster administration in several drug stores and clinics in Metro Manila. This will then be expanded to other areas in the country by February.

The Philippine government is eyeing to fully vaccinate up to 77 million Filipinos in the first quarter of this year and 90 million Filipinos by the second quarter.

The latest data showed that more than 56 million individuals were already fully vaccinated in the Philippines since the government started its immunization campaign in March 2020.

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