DOH girds for bigger virus fight


THE Department of Health yesterday said contact tracing will be expanded following the confirmation of the sixth case of novel coronavirus infection (COVID-19) in the country.

Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said the department already has a plan on boosting their measures against COVID-19.

“Papalawigin natin ang contact tracing nang sa ganun, may kakayahan pa ma-contain… na maging localized lang talaga siya. Wala pang community transmission,” he said.  

The DOH on Saturday confirmed a new case of COVID-19 in the country, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to six, with the 59-year-old wife of the fifth case, a patient previously confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19 who had no recent travel history, becoming the country’s 6th case.

Duque also confirmed that the fifth case of COVID-19 is the first case of local transmission in the country after verification with the Bureau of Immigration showed that the patient had no recent travel history. The 62-year-old is “known to have regularly visited a Muslim prayer hall in Barangay Greenhills, San Juan City.”  

He experienced cough with phlegm on February 25 before being diagnosed less than a week later with severe pneumonia. Initially under the care of Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan, the patient was transferred to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.  

In response to the local transmission of the virus, the health department raised the alert level of the outbreak to Code Red sublevel 1 and recommended the declaration of State of Public Health Emergency to the Office of the President. President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday agreed to issue a declaration of a public health emergency in the Philippines.  

“With this code red, the DOH has recommended to the Office of the President for the declaration of the state of public health emergency which will facilitate... mobilization of resources, ease processes, including procurement of critical logistics and supplies and intensifying reporting and quarantine measures,” Duque said.  

The Health Secretary also said that the Code Red alert is a precautionary measure that will mandate the government and health care providers to prepare for the worst.  

“I’ll just clarify that this is a preemptive call to ensure that national and local governments and private and public health care providers can prepare for possible increase in suspected and confirmed cases,” he said.  

“This declaration is a signal to all concerned agencies, Local Government Units and health care providers to be ready to implement planned response measures. We are continuously reminding everyone to practice personal protective measures such as hand hygiene, social distancing, and proper cough etiquette. Avoid unnecessary travel and postpone mass gatherings, as well,” Duque added.  

With the declaration of a public health emergency, Duque said there is mandatory reporting by hospitals of suspicious cases and mandatory quarantine will be imposed which the individual cannot object to.  

Aside from these, the DOH is now authorized to impose travel restrictions and price freeze.  

Meanwhile, the Health department is gearing up for two different scenarios: localized transmission (current) and sustained community transmission.  

“At this stage of localized transmission, intensified contact tracing and home quarantine of close contacts of confirmed cases, improved hospital preparedness, enhanced severe acute respiratory illness surveillance, and activation of other laboratories outside of RITM to increase capacity to diagnose are now being implemented,” the health chief said.  

“However, once there is sustained community transmission – or an increasing number of local cases whose links cannot be established – the strategy will be shifted from an intensive contact tracing to the implementation of community-level quarantine (or lockdown), and/or possibly, suspension of work or school,” he added.  

The hypothetical lockdown and/or suspension would be implemented at the municipal, city or provincial scale, depending on the conditions.