• Melo Acuna

Code Red declared; State of Public Health Emergency declaration highly possible

Local COVID-19 transmission confirmed; Code Red declared

MANILA – The Department of Health confirmed that the previously-reported 5th case of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is the first case of local transmission in the Philippines after verification with the Bureau of Immigration showed the patient had no recent travel history.

In a press briefing today where Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III read a statement, he said the patient’s wife tested positive for COVID-19 after contact tracing activities were conducted.

“This brings the total number of COVID-19 cases in the country to six (6),” he said. He added the 6thconfirmed case is a 59-year old female who had cough and was admitted to the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) last March 5. The patient is in stable condition, according to Health authorities.

“The DOH is currently exhausting all its efforts to identify others who may have come in contact with the confirmed cases to ensure that this localized transmission does not progress to community spread,” Secretary Duque said.

With the recent findings on localized transmission in the country and in anticipation of possible sustained community transmission, the Department of Health has raised the COVID-19 Alert System to Code Red sublevel 1. The health authorities clarified this is a preemptive call to ensure that national and local governments and public and private health care providers can prepare for possible increase in suspected and confirmed cases.

With Code Red, the Department has recommended to the Office of the President for the declaration of a State of Public Health Emergency that will ease the mobilization of resources, simplify processes including procurement of critical logistics and supplies and intensifying reporting.

With the localized transmission, intensified contact tracing and home quarantine of close contacts of confirmed cases, improved hospital preparedness, enhanced Severe Acute Respiratory Illness surveillance and mobilization of other laboratories outside of RITM to increase capacity to diagnose are now being made.

He explained the declaration is a signal to all concerned agencies, local government units and health care providers to prepare to implement planned response measures. He also underscored the need for everyone to practice personal protective measures including hand hygiene, social distancing and proper cough etiquette. He emphasized the avoidance of unnecessary travel and postpone mass gatherings.

“it is our individual responsibility to protect ourselves and the people around us. Only through collective action in our communities will we be able to limit the spread of the virus,” Secretary Duque explained.

Should there be sustained community transmission or an increase in number of local cases whose links cannot be established, the strategy will shift from an intensive contract tracing to the implementation of community-level quarantine or lockdown and possibly suspension of work or school. These will be employed in municipal, city or provincial scale as needed. Augmentation of health staff from unaffected areas and informed personnel will be made.

“We appeal to all to coordinate closely with the Department of health when disseminating information to the public and within their respective institutions,” the government official said as he reiterated his Department’s commitment to be more circumspect in reporting confirmed cases, to balance the interests of public health and privacy.

“To this end only pertinent information necessary to facilitate contact tracing will be provided to the public, i.e. activity, location and time, if available,” he further said.

He acknowledged the assistance of the World Health Organization (WHO)for five subnational laboratories for Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing. These are San Lazaro Hospital, Lung Center of the Philippines in Manila, Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center in Northern Luzon, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in the Visayas and Southern Philippines Medical Center in Mindanao. The University of the Philippines – National Institutes of Health will also be improved.

The DOH acknowledged receiving proposals for rapid testing kits including one that has been developed locally. These kits, however, have yet to be listed or validated under the WHO Emergency use List to ensure accuracy of test results.

With the three new confirmed cases, the Epidemiology Bureau with the Centers for Health Development and City Health Offices, has begun establishing travel history and identification of individuals who might have had contact with the positive cases. Identified contacts are being interviewed and assessed for signs of respiratory illness.

Secretary Duque said they will prioritize testing of symptomatic persons found to have had close contact with confirmed cases.

He emphasized that based on their current data, 81% of cases have mild disease, about 14% appear to progress to severe disease and 5% are critical.

“We have recommended the declaration of a State of Public Health Emergency despite the fact that we have only two cases constituting localized transmission. Trust that the Department of Health is proceeding with utmost vigilance and is working vigorously to protect Filipinos against COVID-19,” Secretary Duque concluded. (Melo M. Acuña)

Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque in file photo. (Melo M. Acuna)

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