Testing at sequencing ng samples ng international passengers vs Omicron variant, inirerekomenda ng WHO

Robie de Guzman   •   November 30, 2021   •   256

MANILA, Philippines – Inirerekomenda ng World Health Organization (WHO) ang pagpapaigting sa screening at sequencing ng samples ng lahat ng mga pasaherong papasok sa Pilipinas.

Ayon kay WHO Country Representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, isa ito sa mga mabisang paraan upang agad mapigilan ang pagkalat ng Omicron variant sakaling makapasok na ito sa bansa.

Aniya, dapat muling higpitan ang screening at isailalim sa RT-PCR screening ang mga pasahero, may Omicron variant case man o wala ang pinanggalingan nilang bansa.

“Risk-based approach should not only target countries that have already confirmed the Omicron variant in travellers or in citizens. We need to be aware of the fact that many countries have limited capacity for whole genome sequencing,” ani Abeyasinghe.

“That’s why I am advocating that anyone returning from overseas should be sequenced… So that we can get a headstart on being able to detect on the arrival of the variant in the country,” dagdag pa niya.

Kailangan rin aniyang isailalim sa genome sequencing ang lahat ng samples mula sa inbound travelers na nagpositibo sa COVID-19 upang matiyak na walang makakalusot na Omicron variant sa Pilipinas.

Sang-ayon rin si Abeyasinghe sa pagpapatupad ng travel restrictions sa South Africa at iba pang mga bansang may kaso na nito dahil karapatan ng isang bansa na magpatupad ng precautionary measures mula sa anumang banta.

“WHO has always advocated a risk-based approach. So each country should consider the risk of potential information from countries that are already confirming these variants and take appropriate measures while we’re trying to determine the absolute epidemiological significance of the variant and its response to the preventive entry and protocols that we have in the country at the moment in the world,” ayon sa WHO official.

“We continue to urge countries to take a risk- based approach in assessing the likelihood of information,” dagdag pa niya.

Ang Omicron variant ay unang natuklasan sa South Africa noon lamang nakaraang linggo at ngayo’y napaulat na rin sa iba’t ibang bansa.

Sa mga inisyal na pag-aaral, pinangangambahang mas agresibo at mas nakakahawa ang variant na ito dahil sa nakita ritong mutations na mas marami pa kumpara sa Delta variant.

Ngunit giit ng WHO, sa ngayon ay wala pang malinaw na detalye para sabihing mas mabagsik nga ang Omicron variant at may epekto ito sa transmission, mga gamot na ginagamit sa severe infection at sa bakuna laban sa COVID-19.

Ayon sa ahensiya, mas mainam pa ring panlaban sa virus ang umiiral na health protocols gaya ng tamang pagsusuot ng face mask, physical distancing, at palagiang paghuhugas ng kamay.

Mas maigi ring magpabakuna dahil nagbibigay ito ng proteksyon laban sa COVID-19. (mula sa ulat ni Correspondent Aiko Miguel)

COVID-19 cases sa NCR, bumababa na pero hawaan sa mga probinsiya, tumataas – DOH

Robie de Guzman   •   January 21, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – Bumababa na ang kaso ng COVID-19 cases sa National Capital Region (NCR), batay sa obserbasyon ng Department of Health (DOH).

Ayon kay DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, kapansin-pansin ang bumabagal na ngayong hawaan ng COVID-19 sa NCR kahit may umiiral na transmission o hawaan ng Omicron variant, kumpara sa nakalipas na linggo.

“Base naman sa obserbasyon na ito, atin namang sinasabi na, oo bumabagal po ang pagtaas ng mga kaso, mayroon po tayong nakikita na parang nagpa-plateau dito sa National Capital Region,” ani Vergeire.

“But we do not look only sa number of cases kapag tayo ay nag-aanalisa ng ating sitwasyon. Tinitignan pa po natin ang ibang mga metrics na gingamit gaya ng positivity rate,” dagdag pa niya.

Ayon sa DOH, nakatulong ang mataas na vaccination coverage sa NCR kaya naman kahit tumaas ang kaso ay hindi ganoon kadami ang na-ospital at nakaranas ng severe infection.

Ngunit sa labas ng NCR, napansin rin ng DOH na tumataas naman ang kaso ng COVID-19 sa mga lalawigan, dahilan upang ilagay sa COVID-19 Alert Level 4 ang ilang lugar.

Kabilang sa mga lugar na nasa ilalim ng Alert Level 4 hanggang Enero 31 ay ang Kalinga, Ifugao, Mountain Province, at Northern Samar.

Sa ilalim ng Alert Level 4, hanggang 10% indoor capacity lang ang papayagan sa operasyon ng mga establisiymento para sa fully vaccinated individual habang 30% naman ang outdoor capacity.

Bawal namang mag-operate ang amusement parks, casinos, mga sinehan, pati na ang pagsasagawa ng contact sports at face-to-face classes.

“Bagamat mataas na po talaga ang kanilang mga kaso ang kanilang healthcare utilization ay pumalo na po more than 70%. Now there are areas in the country na pumalo na rin po sa more than 70% ang kanilang healthcare utilization pero hindi po natin inescalate so bakit po? Dahil tinitihgnan din po natin kung magkano po ba or how much they have allocated for their ICUs and wards,” ang paliwanag ni Vergeire.

“Nakikita po natin na medyo nahihirapan na po ang mga lugar na ito that’s why the decision to escalate them compared to other areas,” dagdag pa niya.

Ganito rin ang obserbasyon ng OCTA Research group sa sitwasyon ng COVID-19 sa bansa.

Ayon kay OCTA Research fellow Guido David, inaasahang sa pagpasok ng Pebrero ay mas mababa pa ang maitatalang kaso ng COVID-19 kada araw sa NCR,

“Even by the end of the month we are projecting just a little over 2000 cases per day in the NCR it peaked at around 18,000,” ani David.

“By Valentine’s Day, it could be at less than 1,000 cases and by the end of February it could be at around less than 500 cases. Again these are very rough projections we hope that it could guide our friends in the business sector and in the government,” dagdag pa niya.

Sa obserbasyon ng OCTA, ang pagbaba ng kaso sa NCR ay gaya ng pattern na naobserbahan sa South Africa pagkatapos ng mabilis na pagkalat ng Omicron variant.

Pero babala ng grupo, hindi dapat maging kampante ang publiko dahil tumataas pa rin ang kaso ng COVID-19 sa ibang lugar gaya sa Central Luzon, CALABARZON at sa Cebu City.

Dapat rin umanong panatilihin muna ang alert level sa NCR dahil mahigit pa sa 1 ang reproduction number ng rehiyon at hindi pa rin naman napuputol ang hawaan ng Omicron at Delta variant.

“Downgrading to alert level at this time might not be advisable until the NCR reaches the moderate risk just to sustain the rapid decrease that we’re seeing so that we could see those good numbers later in the moths of February,” ani David.

“Last year we almost reach a baseline of about less than 100 cases per day in the NCR,” dagdag pa niya.

Samantala, muli namang nagpaalala ang mga otoridad sa publiko na sumunod sa health protocols at magpabakuna o booster upang magkaroon ng proteksyon laban sa COVID-19.

 

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.

PH’s first 2 Omicron deaths were unvaccinated elderlies with co-morbidities – DOH

Robie de Guzman   •   January 19, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines has reported two fatalities linked to the COVID-19 Omicron variant, the Department of Health (DOH) said.

The DOH said the two death cases were “aged more than 60 years, unvaccinated, and had pre-existing medical conditions.”

“Both were detected during the latest whole genome sequencing,” the agency said in a message to reporters.

The two patients were from Metro Manila and Central Luzon.

These are the first reported fatalities among those infected with Omicron in the country, it added.

The DOH stressed that while the Omicron variant mostly presents with asymptomatic and mild disease, data showed that the elderly, those with comorbidities, and unvaccinated are still most at risk for fatalities.

The health department also reported that 492 more Omicron cases have been detected in the Philippines based on the latest whole genome sequencing involving 714 samples.

The newly reported Omicron cases are composed of 332 local cases and 160 returning overseas Filipinos.

The indicated addresses of the said cases were from the following areas:

  • National Capital Region with 227 cases
  • CALABARZON with 76 cases
  • Central Luzon with 11 cases
  • Central Visayas with 5 cases
  • Cagayan Valley with 2 cases
  • Western Visayas, with 2 cases
  • Davao Region with 2 cases
  • Soccsksargen with 2 cases
  • Cordillera Administrative Region with 2 cases
  • Ilocos Region with 1 case
  • MIMAROPA with 1 case
  • Bangsamoro region with 1 case

The DOH said that based on the case line list, three cases are still active, 467 cases have been tagged as recovered, while there are 20 cases whose outcomes are still being verified.

This brings the total number of confirmed Omicron variant cases in the country to 535.

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