As COVID-19 is spreading anew, individuals visiting the offices of the Bureau of Corrections and the New Bilibid Prison are required to wear face masks and present negative rapid antigen test results.
This comes amid the increase of COVID cases at the NBP and Correctional Institution for Women.
With the shift in testing protocols to focus more on symptomatic individuals, the Department of Health is bracing for a continuing rise in the COVID-19 positivity rate.
DOH Officer-in-Charge Dr. Maria Rosario Vergeire stressed that with this shift, those tested are most likely to be positive for the coronavirus disease.
Vergeire also said the positivity rate is not the sole criterion in monitoring the country’s COVID-19 situation.
She also allayed concerns from legislators on the reported increase in local COVID-19 cases.
During the hearing of the House Committee on Appropriations on the budgetary performance of the DOH, Vergeire told the panel the department is prevented from purchasing bivalent COVID-19 vaccines, which targets Omicron COVID-19 and its subvariants, due to an absence of a law authorizing such.
On the rising COVID cases, Vergeire said over 90 percent of the new infections being recorded daily are “mild and asymptomatic cases.”
“We’re averaging around 822 cases per day. This is about 79 percent higher than the previous two weeks of cases,” Vergeire told the House appropriations panel chaired by Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Zaldy Co.
“Most of these cases are mild and asymptomatic cases. We will have about 8 to 9 percent of those with COVID that are classified as severe and critical,” she said.
Metro Manila’s weekly COVID-19 positivity rate rose to 19.7 percent as of May 2, according to pandemic monitor OCTA Research, as its fellow Dr. Guido David said Wednesday night the latest positivity rate increased by 7 points from 12.7 recorded on April 25.
“This could go as high as 25 percent,” he warned in a tweet on the positivity rate, or the percentage of tests turning out positive for the coronavirus. (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
The World Health Organization recommends a 5-percent threshold for COVID-19 positivity rate.
Hospital occupancy in Metro Manila also increased to 24.7 percent on May 2 from 22.5 percent on April 25, Guido noted.
Infections surged in the past weeks due to increased mobility, waning immunity and more contagious COVID-19 variants, he told ABS-CBN News.
BuCor Health and Services Acting Director Dra. Ma. Cecilia Villanueva said that out of the 577 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) tested this week, a total of 55 PDLs tested positive for the virus. Of this, 30 had mild symptoms while 22 were asymptomatic.
The agency said one Bucor personnel also tested positive for COVID-19, as the bureau said the first batch of 32 PDLs who tested positive must undergo a rapid antigen test on Friday before they can be discharged.
“We will continue to undertake contact tracing just to make sure that our personnel and PDLs are safe,” Villanueva said in a statement.
Visitation privileges, meanwhile, remain suspended.
“There are many factors or measures to consider as to an area’s increase in COVID-19 cases,” Vergeire said. “This means the metrics such as transmission rate, contact rate, and longer durations of infectiousness are not sole drivers of transmission and increases in cases.”
The DOH OIC said they must keep an eye on the healthcare utilization rates and monitor the situation on hospital admission.
She further cited the need to emphasize other factors such as layers of protection — mask wearing based on individual risk assessment, isolating when sick, and vaccination for the primary series and getting boosted.
Former National Task Force vs. COVID-19 adviser, public health expert Dr. Anthony Leachon, noted that while hospital occupancy remains low, it is increasing gradually. Although cases of COVID-19 infections are low, “we cannot predict the future,” he added.
He attributed the surge in the coronavirus cases to the new subvariant XBB 1.16 known as Arcturus, the wanning wall of immunity, the increase in mobility, complacency of people and the optional masking.
The WHO urged the public to make safe choices and assess the risk to help prevent infection as it acknowledged the rise in COVID-19 cases in the region.
If possible, WHO said, office meetings should be held online to protect oneself against coronavirus infection.
“When meeting in person, practice COVID-19 protective measures,” added WHO.
Meanwhile, Vergeire said that the absence of a law allowing the DOH to purchase bivalent Covid-19 vaccines explains why the DOH “is not very active” in pursuing the procurement of the vaccines.
Vergeire raised the issue upon a query from Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo, the House appropriations panel senior vice chairperson.
“Why is that we are not very active in procuring bivalent COVID-19 vaccines and we are depending on donation. As it is, our healthcare workers remain vulnerable because they are not yet protected,” Quimbo said.
In response, Vergeire said: “We just like to mention and emphasize that we did all things possible. Unfortunately, procurement is a non-option for us right now because of the existing laws in the country.”
“We don’t have a basis to do procurement as stated in provisions required by manufacturers for us to be able to enter agreements with them. We opted for donations at this point because we do not have a policy for us to go through the procurement process. The state of calamity was lifted, and because of that, our COVID-19 Vaccination law is already not valid,” she added.
Vergeire said the government has the money intended to purchase bivalent COVID-19 vaccines.
“We have a budget from our [COVID-19] loans, that is why we did not include it in the General Appropriations Act proposal,” she said.
Quimbo, for her part, committed that Congress is ready to pass a law for the procurement of bivalent COVID-19 vaccines. “If there is a need to pass the law, the Congress is open to it, we will find ways to help you.”