Ombudsman probe won’t affect DOH, COVID-19 task force credibility – Palace

Robie de Guzman   •   June 18, 2020   •   498

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Thursday expressed confidence that the Office of the Ombudsman’s investigation into the alleged irregularities in the Department of Health’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis won’t affect the credibility of the agency and the government task force.

In a televised briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said that at this point, health officials and other personalities involved in the probe are “presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

“Kung mapapansin ninyo naman po ang IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) po talaga, lahat po ng departamento, it’s a whole government approach, it’s not just the DOH although the DOH po has the position of leadership,” Roque said.

The Palace official also relayed that President Rodrigo Duterte believes that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III will be able to respond to the allegations being investigated by the Ombudsman.

“Kampante po ang president na masasagot po ni Secretary Duque lahat po ‘yang alegasyon sa Ombudsman,” he said.

He added that the president “has time and again expressed his continuing trust and confidence” in Duque whose leadership at the health agency has been beset by controversies.

The Office of the Ombudsman earlier said it will launch an investigation into the supposed irregularities in the DOH’s response against COVID-19.

The probe would cover the purchase of coronavirus disease test kits, delayed procurement of personal protective equipment and other supplies for healthcare workers and the rising number of fatalities among medical workers amid the public health crisis, as well as the delay in the release of financial assistance to healthcare workers who have fallen severely ill and died due to coronavirus disease.

Duque earlier said he is ready to face the Ombudsman probe. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

IATF OKs use of Sinovac COVID-19 vax for healthcare workers

Robie de Guzman   •   February 26, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) has agreed with the recommendation of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) to use Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine for healthcare workers, the Department of Health (DOH) said Friday.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said NITAG experts have concluded that the vaccine will be beneficial and is sufficient to be used for healthcare workers despite its lower efficacy rate of 50.4% for those frequently exposed to COVID-19 patients.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), on Monday, issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) to Sinovac but did not recommend its use for health workers caring for COVID-19 patients due to its lower efficacy rate based on clinical trials conducted in Brazil.

Vergeire stressed that the FDA’s recommendation on Sinovac was not a contraindication and that this does not prohibit healthcare workers from getting the Sinovac jab.

“Ultimately, the EUA of FDA establishes the safety and efficacy of Sinovac and our experts have ruled that SINOVAC’s 100% efficacy rate in preventing moderate and severe cases is indeed sufficient to meet the goal of reducing deaths — protections which we want to afford first and foremost to our healthcare workers,” she said.

Experts from NITAG also emphasized that the vaccine is safe and that they themselves are prepared to receive a shot.

“In our deliberations what we looked at it is safety to ensure the vaccine is safe that has been borne out by the review of the trials,” Dr. Marissa Alejandira, DOH-TAG member, said.

“As for myself, as a healthcare worker who sees COVID-19 patients, I am willing to take this vaccine,” Dr. Edsel Salvana, also a DOH TAG member, said.

They, however, stressed that medical frontliners will not be forced to take the shot and that they will not lose their priority status if they chose to decline the Sinovac vaccine shot.

The DOH said it is now finalizing details on how to allocate the 600,000 Sinovac vaccine doses expected to arrive on Sunday, February 28. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Aiko Miguel)

UK declines PH offer to deploy more Filipino nurses in exchange for vaccines

Aileen Cerrudo   •   February 25, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—The United Kingdom (UK) government has declined the offer of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to deploy more nurses to the UK in exchange for vaccines.

UK Ambassador to the Philippines Daniel Pruce said the recruitment of nurses and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines are two separate issues.

“We’ve got no plans to link vaccines with those conversations around the recruitment of nurses. You know those two strands of conversation I think continue but as I’ve said again we have no plans to link those two issues,” he said during a virtual conference.

DOLE Silvestre Bello III proposed forming an agreement with the UK to lift the deployment cap of healthcare workers, provided the UK would allocate vaccines for them. Bello also made the same proposal with Germany.

DOLE Information and Publication Service (IPS) Director Rolly Francia clarified the proposal was to make sure the nurses are safe when deployed abroad and not for the country to have additional supply of COVID-19 vaccines. This was after the proposal drew ire for making nurses look like ‘commodities’ to be exchanged for vaccines.

“What Secretary Bello wants is to ensure that the nurse gets vaccinated if ever the request for an exemption in the cap would be granted by the President,” Francia said.

Nevertheless, Ambassador Pruce said he will meet with Bello in the coming weeks to further discuss the issue. AAC (with reports from Janice Ingente)

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.

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