Press Briefing

Public Briefing #LagingHandaPH hosted by Presidential Communications Operations Office Undersecretary Rocky Ignacio

Event Public Briefing #LagingHandaPH

USEC. IGNACIO: Magandang umaga, Pilipinas. Ngayon po ay March 22, 2021, araw po ng Lunes. Sa nakakaalarmang pagtaas ng COVID-19 cases sa bansa nitong mga nakaraang araw, muli po tayong nananawagan sa bawat isa na mag-ingat po at makiisa sa protocols na ipinatutupad ng pamahalaan. Ating tandaan basta’t sama-sama at laging handa, kaya po natin ito. Nagbabalik po ang Public Briefing #LagingHandaPH.

Sa ikatlong beses po ay muling pumalo sa higit pitong libo ang naitalang mga bagong kaso ng COVID-19 sa bansa kahapon – 7,757 ang nadagdag sa kabuuang COVID-19 cases na pumalo na po sa 663,794; 15,288 naman po ang nadagdag sa mga gumaling kaya nating 577,754 ang total recoveries habang tatlumpu’t siyam ang nadagdag sa mga nasawi na ngayon po ay 12,968 total deaths na. Ang 7,999 cases na naitala noong Sabado pa rin ang pinakamataas na bilang ng daily reported cases sa bansa simula noong ianunsiyo ang community quarantine dahil sa COVID-19.

Samantala, dahil naman po sa mataas na recovery kahapon ay muling bumaba sa 73,072 ang mga active COVID-19 cases o katumbas ng 11% ng total cases. Malaking bahagi o 97.3% nito ay mild at asymptomatic; 1% ang critical; 1.1% ang severe; at 0.58% naman ang moderate cases.

Sa patuloy po na pagtaas ng COVID-19 cases sa bansa, ang ating pong panawagan: Ipagpaliban po muna ang non-essential travel at manatili po tayo sa loob ng ating bahay kung hindi naman po kinakailangan lumabas. Isuot po natin nang tama ang ating face mask at kung mayroon po tayong ibang kasama sa loob ng bahay, mainam din po na isuot pa rin ang ating face mask para po maiwasan ang hawahan. Siguruhin din po na may maayos na air circulation ang ating mga tahanan o anumang gusali sa pamamagitan ng pagbubukas po ng mga bintana.

Kung kayo naman po ay nakakaranas ng sintomas, agaran po kayong makipag-ugnayan sa inyong Barangay Health Emergency Response Team o BHERT. Maaari po kayong tumawag sa One Hospital Command Center sa pamamagitan ng DOH hotline na 1555 o sa mga numerong nakikita ninyo sa inyong TV screens.

At kung kayo po ay nakakaranas ng mild symptoms, mainam po na manatili sa isolation facilities kaysa po sa ospital. Muli po, maging BIDAsolusyon sa COVID-19.

Samantala, malapit na pong dumating ang dagdag na COVID-19 vaccines na pupuno po sa kailangang dose ng nasa 1.7 million medical frontliners sa bansa ayon iyan kay Senate Committee Chairperson on Health and Demography Senator Bong Go. Dagdag pa niya na hindi delayed o nahuhuli ang National Vaccination Program ng pamahalaan. Ang detalye, sa report na ito:

[NEWS REPORT]

Sa kasalukuyan po ay apat na COVID-19 vaccines na ang nabigyan ng Food and Drug Administration ng Emergency Use Authorization dito sa Pilipinas – ang mga bakuna po ng Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca, Sinovac Life Sciences at ang huli ay ang Sputnik V ng Gamaleya Research Institute mula po sa Russia.

Para alamin ang development sa mga bakunang ito, makakausap po natin si FDA Director General, Usec. Eric Domingo. Doc Eric, good morning po.

FDA DIR. GEN. DOMINGO: Hi. Good morning, Usec. Rocky.

USEC. IGNACIO: Opo. Usec, sa naging review po ng FDA para mabigyan ng Emergency Use Authorization ang Sputnik V, ano daw po ang mga known at possible risks sa pag-a-administer po ng bakunang ito sa isang tao at ano po iyong common side effect na puwedeng maranasan ng mga tatanggap nito?

FDA DIR. GEN. DOMINGO: Iyong Sputnik V na vaccine, Usec. Rocky, para din siyang AstraZeneca, isa siyang adenoviral vector vaccine. Ibig sabihin galing po siya sa virus na hindi nagiging sanhi ng sakit sa tao tapos nilagyan siya noong genetic material ng COVID-19, pagkatapos iyon ang ini-inject sa atin para mag-elicit ng immune response. Maganda iyong kaniyang efficacy rate, mahigit 91% simula po sa bata hanggang sa matanda medyo pare-pareho ‘no, very consistent iyong kaniyang efficacy rate.

At iyong nakita naman po sa kaniya na mga side effects or adverse events ay very similar lang po sa mga regular na mga nararamdaman natin kapag tayo ay nabakunahan ng flu katulad po ng mga pananakit sa braso, iyong iba mayroong parang tumatamlay nang konti, may kaunting sinat or may kaunting pagbibigat ng katawan, mayroong iba na magkakaroon ng parang mild sore throat. At siyempre po ang kailangan lang nating bantayan naman dito talaga iyong mga may history din po ng allergies katulad po noong ibang bakuna.

USEC. IGNACIO: Usec, may datos ba o reports mula sa Gamaleya kung ang Sputnik V daw po ay effective dito sa mga nakikitang bagong variants ng COVID-19?

FDA DIR. GEN. DOMINGO: Well ongoing pa iyong mga studies on the new variants, lahat po ng mga vaccines ngayon. Pero ito naman ay mukha naman pong ano ‘no—ang alam naman po natin habang dumarating ang mga bagong variant, there’s a possibility talaga na bababa nang konti ‘no ang efficacy ng mga vaccines. At later on kung makita naman po ito, maaari naman po kasing i-revise iyong mga vaccine para maging mas effective siya with the new variants. So we’re still waiting po for the data on the new variants.

USEC. IGNACIO: Ayon po sa report ng The Lancet at ng BBC ay slightly different daw po iyong formulation para sa first and second dose ng Sputnik V na gumamit nang magkaibang adenovirus vectors. Mas effective daw po iyong ganitong setup para i-boost iyong immune system ng babakunahan at mas tatagal din daw po iyong epekto nito. Totoo po ba daw ito, Dr. Domingo?

FDA DIR. GEN. DOMINGO: So ito iyong mga isa sa mga theory kung bakit nga napakataas ng kaniyang efficacy rate compared to other adenoviral vaccines na ginagamit. So totoo iyon, Usec. Rocky ‘no, kapag binakunahan ka noong first dose mo, ibang adenoviral vector ang laman noon. Pagkatapos after three weeks babakunahan iyong tinatawag nating component 2 or second dose, ibang adenoviral vehicle naman iyong ginagamit doon. So ang theory is that since magkaiba siya, malakas pa rin iyong immune reaction mo doon sa pangalawa, hindi katulad noong hindi siya nada-dampen dahil nagkaroon ka na ng previous na exposure. And this is one of the mechanisms being considered kaya bakit mas napakataas niya, na mahigit 91% ang kaniyang efficacy.

USEC. IGNACIO: Opo. Ayon pa rin nga sa The Lancet, iyong 91 and 92% na efficacy rate ng Sputnik V ay naitala mula sa symptomatic cases lang at kailangan pa umano daw po ng dagdag na research para malaman kung kaya rin nitong pagalingin iyong asymptomatic cases. Kung tama ang impormasyon na ito, Usec, ano po iyong instruction ninyo sa vaccination team kapag dumating na po iyong bakunang ito sa bansa at hindi ba siya masasayang sa atin, Usec, kung karamihan sa kaso natin ay asymptomatic?

FDA DG USEC. DOMINGO: Well, hindi naman po ano. Lahat ng vaccines ngayon talaga kasi kulang pa iyong mga pag-aaral natin sa mga asymptomatic cases at saka iyong transmission ‘no. Ang alam natin, nababawasan iyong pagkakaroon mo ng sakit pero hindi natin alam kung nababawasan iyong kung ikaw ay nagkasakit na asymptomatic ka, kung nakakapag-transmit ka. So, these are part of the ongoing studies right now ng lahat po ng mga bakuna.

Pero of course, ang importante talaga during the time of vaccination is very thorough iyong screening natin sa ating mga pasyente na babakunahan: Iyong kanilang medical history; kung nagkaroon sila ng symptoms in the past few days at lalung-lalo na iyong actual ‘no, panahon na pagdating nila kailangan malaman natin kung wala siyang sakit; kung wala siyang lagnat na walang nararamdaman; dapat normal ang blood pressure at kung may mga sakit siya katulad ng diabetes ay dapat kontrolado ito bago natin bakunahan.

USEC. IGNACIO: Dahil sinasabing mataas nga po iyong efficacy rate nito para sa adults na may edad 18 years old and above, mairirekomenda ba ng FDA ang Sputnik V sa mga senior citizen po regardless kung sila ay may healthy condition o may comorbidity?

FDA DG USEC. DOMINGO: Well, iyon po ang atin pong indication for Sputnik V would include adults 18 years old and above. Ang maganda naman po kung mababasa natin iyong kaniyang article sa Lancet, more than 10% or above 10% of their clinical trial participants eh talaga pong senior citizens.

So, medyo malaking parte po ng kanilang study mahigit 2,000 ay mga senior citizen at iyong senior citizen na iyon nakita na maganda rin ang safety, at saka iyong efficacy sa kanila ay mataas din katulad ng mga bata.

Pagkatapos po, kung titingnan din natin iyong kanilang pag-aaral sa Lancet, 25% ng kanilang mga participants eh may mga comorbidities. May mga diabetic, may mga high blood, at naipakita nila na maganda rin ang resulta sa mga ito.

So, mas wide po ang kaniyang indication at mas marami pong taong maaaring paggamitan ng bakunang ito.

USEC. IGNACIO: Sinabi ninyo nga po na hindi puwedeng iturok sa mga senior citizen ang Sinovac vaccines, ito po ay matapos sabihin ni vaccine czar Secretary Galvez na nine million na nakakatandang Filipino po ang bibigyan ng naturang bakuna sa susunod na buwan. Sumunod naman po ba sina Secretary Galvez sa desisyon ninyo na iyan na hindi po matutuloy iyong balak nilang iyon, USec.?

FDA DG USEC. DOMINGO: Well, so far po, wala pa naman po yatang plano na mag-rollout ng Sinovac sa senior citizens. Hindi naman po natin kasi sinabi na bawal o makakasama ito, ang atin lang pong impormasyon ay wala pa pong datos na nagsasabi na maganda rin ito sa mga sixty years old and above. Just because wala pong kasamang ganoon doon sa clinical trial phase 3 ng Sinovac.

So, siguro po, once naman magbigay ng data ang ating manufacturer at maipakita nila na maganda rin ang resulta sa ganito, madali naman po nating maisasama natin ang grupo na iyon or ma-revise iyong EUA. Pero as of now, wala pa po kasi talaga tayong data on 60 year olds and above.

USEC. IGNACIO: Opo. Tungkol naman doon sa naging panawagan ni Senate President Vicente Sotto III na dapat daw po mag-focus ang pamahalaan sa treatment ng COVID-19 cases sa gitna aniya ng umano’y vaccine delays. Nagbanggit siya ng mga endorsed medication na maaari aniyang pagtuunan ng pansin kagaya daw po ng Avigan at Remdesivir. Ito po ba ay mairirekomenda rin ng FDA as an ongoing medication ng mga may active COVID cases?

FDA DG USEC. DOMINGO: Iyong Avigan po mayroon tayong ongoing niyan na clinical trial ng DOH at saka PGH at available po iyan sa mga mild to moderate na mayroon pong mga COVID na nasa ospital. Iyong Remdesivir naman po ay ginagamit natin sa mga severe na mga COVID na mga naka-admit at tuluy-tuloy po ang pagbibigay ng FDA ng compassionate special permit sa mga ospital para ma-import po ito at magamit sa mga pasyente.

So, ito pong dalawang gamot na ito ay talagang kasama po iyan doon sa mga clinical treatment guidelines po ng Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Disease kaya sa ngayon po ay nagagamit sila dito sa atin.

USEC. IGNACIO: Opo. Usec, puntahan natin iyong tanong mula sa media ano po. Mula kay Red Mendoza ng Manila Times: Sinasabi po ng private sector na dapat payagan sila daw mag-acquire ng bakuna para sa kanilang mga empleyado. Hindi ba nila malalabag iyong provisions ng EUA?

FDA DG USEC. DOMINGO: Hindi naman po. Basta hindi lamang po didiretso, kailangan may koordinasyon sa Department of Health para sigurado tayo na nasusunod iyong atin pong mga guidelines po ng ating vaccination program at saka iyong prioritization po natin ay hindi po naba-bypass ‘no. So, maaari naman pong maging partners ng pamahalaan ang private sector but they have to coordinate with the Department of Health.

USEC. IGNACIO: Tanong pa rin po ni Red Mendoza ng Manila Times: Pagkatapos pong madiskubre ang issue sa mababang sensitivity ng dalawang antigen test na SD Biosensor at Lumiquick test, mababago na po ba daw iyong proseso ng pag-approve sa mga ito? Dapat na po bang mauna iyong evaluation ng RITM bago po iyong approval ng FDA?

FDA DG USEC. DOMINGO: Opo. So, iyon po iyong ginagawa namin ngayon na ilalabas namin na bagong issuance kasi nga marami na rin naman pong kits na available. So, iyong mga kits na nandito na ay kailangan pumasa sila doon sa kanilang RITM evaluation para maituloy nila ang pagbebenta nila ng lab kits pagkatapos naman iyong mga darating pa po na mga bagong mag-a-apply, kailangan lang po ng RITM evaluation bago po natin i-approve.

USEC. IGNACIO: Opo. Usec, may tanong po si Maricel Halili ng TV5: May mga gumagamit daw po ng Ivermectin kahit walang endorsement ng FDA at please reiterate daw po your advice to the public how effective or how risky is this?

FDA DG USEC. DOMINGO: Iyong Ivermectin po kasi, may mga clinical trials po no to see the effect of Ivermectin in the treatment and prevention of COVID-19 kaya lang sa ngayon po, lahat ng mga clinical trial ay wala pa pong nagpapakita ng magandang ebidensiya para sabihin na nakakatulong siya. Wala pa po tayong nakikitang benefits sa gamot na ito, kaya hindi pa po natin siya mag-advice na panggamot for COVID-19.

Pangalawa, sa Pilipinas po kasi ang mga registered lamang na tablet o oral medicines for Ivermectin ay para sa mga hayop. Wala pong human na Ivermectin na oral preparations na registered at approve dito sa Pilipinas. Kaya binabalaan po namin na huwag po tayong iinom ng gamot na para sa mga hayop kasi iba po ang dosage niyan, iba po ang quality niyan at hindi po tayo nakakasigurado na ito ay aakma sa tao lalo na po kapag mali ang dose o mali po iyong ating nainom.

USEC. IGNACIO: Opo. Tanong naman ni Joseph Morong ng GMA News: Would you recommend din iyong Sputnik V sa mga seniors who are next in line daw po sa vaccination? Ibig sabihin nito, na gamitin for senior after natin ma-finish iyong health care workers? When do you think we can do that?

FDA DG USEC. DOMINGO: Opo ano. So, ito pong Sputnik V puwede po iyan gamitin sa seniors the same sa AstraZeneca at saka iyong Pfizer kasi po itong tatlong ito kung babasahin po natin iyong mga published clinical trial results, makikita naman po natin na certain portion of their subjects included elderly.

Hopefully po, ang plano na nalaman ko, ng ating pamahalaan na makapag-umpisa na sa mga senior citizens ay by April. Iyon po ang naririnig ko kina Secretary Charlie na by March ay tatapusin po iyong mga health care workers para by April sa mga senior citizens na po tayo.

USEC. IGNACIO: Opo. May tanong naman si Sam Medenilla ng Business Mirror: May update na po kaya regarding sa application for the EUA of the COVID-19 vaccine ng Sinopharm?

FDA DG USEC. DOMINGO: Wala pa pong update. Mayroon na pong dalawa, dalawa na pong kompanya iyong sumulat dito sa amin at sinasabi nga na sila daw ang mag-a-apply for the Sinopharm. Sinulatan naman po namin sila para magbigay ng listahan po ng mga requirements at ng mga documents na kailangan i-submit. Pero so far, wala pa naman pong sagot pareho, so wala pa po kaming ini-evaluate ngayon na application for EUA ng Sinopharm.

USEC. IGNACIO: Okay. May tanong po si Rose Novenario ng Hataw: May plano ba ang DOH na humingi ng saklolo sa Cuba considering na maraming bansa na silang natulungan para mapababa ang kaso ng COVID-19?

USEC. DOMINGO: Well, wala naman po akong narinig pa na galing sa Department of Health na plano na makipag-ugnayan sa ibang bansa ngayon as of now para dito sa COVID-19. Although Usec, hindi ko lang po masisigurado dahil medyo malayo po ang opisina ko sa DOH.

USEC. IGNACIO: Okay, maraming salamat po sa inyong panahon FDA Director General Usec. Eric Domingo. Mabuhay po kayo, Usec.

USEC. DOMINGO: Thank you, Usec. Rocky. Maraming salamat din po.

USEC. IGNACIO: Opo. Vaccine confidence ang isa sa nakikita pong posibleng dahilan ng World Health Organization sa biglang pagdami po ng mga kaso ng COVID-19 na naitatala dito sa bansa araw-araw. Asahan ba natin ang pagsipa ng numero ng mga nahahawa sa sakit ngayong dumarami rin po ang bakunang dumarating sa Pilipinas.

Para pag-usapan iyan, we are joined by the WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabi Abeyasinghe. Good morning Dr. Rabi.

DR. ABEYASINGHE: Good morning, Usec. Rocky.

USEC. IGNACIO: Dr. Rabi can you tell us what vaccine confidence means and how it could possibly be the cause of the sudden surge of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines?

DR. ABEYASINGHE: It’s not vaccine confidence, its vaccine optimism probably that is responsible to some extent to an increase of COVID cases not only here in the Philippines but in other countries also where we are seeing an increase.

The interpretation is that with the arrival of vaccines people start of relaxing their protocol compliance to public health behaviors. There was a tendency, not largely but in small measure to go out more frequently, to meet more frequently with other people.

Of course this was probably because of the long quarantine period and the long lockdowns that people have undergone. And so with the arrival of vaccines in many countries, there was na optimism that people can go back quickly to the way they live life before the pandemic. And these little changes in compliance with the protocols is believed to have most opportunity for the virus to transmit more freely and that could have been one of the causes why we are seeing increased transmission here in the Philippines also.

USEC. IGNACIO: Dr. Rabi, has the same scenario been observed in other countries that has started their vaccine rollout?

DR. ABEYASINGHE: Yes, so we are seeing right now a global increase in cases. Our Director General mentioned on Friday that last week was the fourth consecutive week we seeing a week on week increase a number of cases reported globally. So, after stabilization of transmission in January and early February, we have seen now that globally in several countries, we are seeing an increase of transmission. And the thinking is that this could be related to vaccine optimism and the arrival of vaccines and not following the protocol and the physical distancing before the vaccines arrived. But it could also be to some extend linked to circulation of new variants that are thought to have increased transmissibility. So the mix of these factors could actually be causing high level of transmission in the Philippines also.

USEC. IGNACIO: Dr. Rabi now that the FDA gave the green light to the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia. Is this vaccine already included to the WHO’s Emergency Use Listing, if so could the Philippines possibly get this from the COVAX facility on top of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines?

DR. ABEYASINGHE: Unfortunately, the Sputnik V vaccine is not part of the WHO EUL process yet. It is a vaccine that is being considered by the WHO for EUL listing because of its reported higher efficacy but the process is not yet complete and so it cannot be included in the COVAX folder of vaccines until WHO grants Emergency Use Listing status for the Sputnik V.

USEC. IGNACIO: Dr. Rabi with the issues circulating around the AstraZeneca vaccine that was suspected to have caused blood clotting is some. Many countries in Europe have temporarily suspended its administration when some continued despite this concern. Although WHO already mentioned that there is no evident link between the vaccine and the blood clot, is the WHO at least conducting further investigation on this matter to ease distrust and discomfort to this vaccine?

DR. ABEYASINGHE: There was some concern that there was a relationship between a few episodes of thromboembolic disease or blood clotting which had been observed to some countries of Europe but we are happy to state the European Medical Association after a carefully evaluation of all the data, has agreed with WHO’s position that doesn’t see a cause, a link with the AstraZeneca vaccine and the frequency of thromboembolic episodes that have been reported in the population.

Actually the number of thromboembolic episodes that have been reported in the vaccinated population according to some reports lower than in the normal population. So there is no causal link established and so we are conscious of the fact that there were about 40 cases of such disease episodes reported in Europe. But this is in comparison to almost 5o million doses of AstraZeneca that have been administered nearly 20 million in Europe and about 20 million in other parts of the world and these reports have been seen anywhere.

So, based on this WHO and now the European Medical Association reiterates that is no link and it is safe to use the vaccines of course recognizing that these are Emergency Use Listed vaccines, WHO and the European Medical Association continue to say that national authorities need to monitor carefully for side effects and we encourage countries using AstraZeneca vaccine to do that.

But the current position is that there is no evidence that the vaccine actually are causing those episodes and therefore the usefulness of using the vaccines far outweigh these few sporadic cases have been reported to WHO. So while advocating that countries continue to monitor it for thromboembolic disease and other side effects, the consensus now is – both from WHO and the European Medical Association – that the AstraZeneca vaccines are safe for use and based on this decision that came on Thursday from the EMA [European Medical Association] and Friday from WHO’s Local Vaccine Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, many of the European countries that had temporary halt on the use of AstraZeneca have restarted using them and the AstraZeneca is are now being used all over the world.

USEC. IGNACIO: Dr. Rabi, do you agree with the government’s move to administer the remaining AstraZeneca stock as the first dose for healthworkers in areas with high cases of COVID-19?

DR. ABEYASINGHE: So as the number of cases increase, it becomes critically important that we take steps to reduce the transmission. But also as part of that, that we ensure that the healthcare capacity is now fully functional. Of course it was with this view that originally that frontline healthcare workers were included in priority group 1 and now that we are seeing a surge of cases in the National Capital Region and adjoining regions, it becomes even more important that we protect the health care workers by the use of vaccines.

So we are trying to maximize the benefit of the vaccines we have by vaccinating the frontline health workers as quickly as possible; targeting specifically those areas that we are seeing an increase of transmission. We know that with one dose of vaccine, there is protection of over 75% and so it’s important that we provide that protection to the health care workers so that they can continue to care for those people who fall sick from COVID in those areas of increased transmission. So this is quite aligned to what WHO said and WHO has been advocating. And we are happy that the Philippines is following this strategy. Thank you.

USEC. IGNACIO: Dr. Rabi, what if the additional AstraZeneca vaccine did not arrive as planned in time for the health workers’ second dose, will this affect the efficacy of the vaccine?

DR. ABEYASINGHE: The second dose is scheduled to be give after 8 weeks around and could be given up to 12 weeks. The evidence that is available globally shows that the maximum benefit of the second dose can be achieved by administering the dose after the 10th week and around the 12th week. So we believe that new stocks of AstraZeneca vaccine will arrive before the 12th week; 12 weeks from the arrival of vaccines on the 4th of March will be in June. And we believe that the country will receive further stocks of AstraZeneca before that so that we can ensure that all those people/health care workers who received the first dose will be able to get the second dose before the 12th week or around that time.

USEC. IGNACIO: Dr. Rabi, let’s now proceed to the questions from the media. We have here from Leila Salaverria: What does the WHO think of proposals to exclude PVT entities such as those in the manufacture of tobacco, alcohol, milk and soda from procuring their own COVID vaccines? What effect could such a policy if enforced have on efforts to immunize the population?

DR. ABEYASINGHE: The concern with those sectors procuring and distributing vaccines was that, that could be used as advocacy for those products and could be interpreted from that light. So under the framework I mentioned, the tobacco control which the Philippines has signed, there are limitations on providing opportunities for those industries to the providing health-related services or using health-related services for marketing advocacy. It’s in line with this, we believe that the Department of Health does not encourage those industries to be involved in the distribution of vaccines. They are of course will be entitled to vaccines through the national vaccine rollout. And so we don’t believe that they will be left behind as the vaccine rollout happens.

USEC. IGNACIO: We have another question, from Red Mendoza of Manila Times: Former National Task Force Adviser Dr. Tony Leachon criticized your statement in our previous conference where you said that vaccine optimism was the reason why cases have increased in the country stressing that the ultimate blame for the increase of cases in the country was the slow response of the government. What can you say about this?

DR. ABEYASINGHE: Well, the fundamental reason is why are we seeing an increase and as I mentioned the last time, this increase is not limited to the Philippines. We are seeing an increase in many countries including in countries that have been rolling out vaccines rather successfully. So it’s something larger than the slow response. The slow response could be attributed to increase in cases continually, but the fundamental reason that actually contributed to an increase in cases is rather more likely to be linked to the fact that I already mentioned.

USEC. IGNACIO: Another question from Red Mendoza: With more than 21,000 cases posted in the past 3 days, is this a cause for alarm for the government to strengthen its response? Do you think the current measures that were imposed on Sunday are enough?

DR. ABEYASINGHE: There are two aspects that need to be looked at. Clearly the compliance with the minimum public health standards need to be reinforced and those measures that were announced on Sunday will go a long distance to do that. But if we also assume that this transmission is in some way attributed to the circulation of new variants which are reported to have increased transmissibility, it becomes increasingly important that at the local government level we expedite the case detection, testing, the contact tracing, the quarantining and isolation of infected people and exposed people, close contacts.

These aspects of a response is something that has suffered through the year because as I’ve mentioned before, the implementation has been different across different local government units. So this is again an opportunity to reinforce and ensure that those measures are strengthened in addition to the non-pharmaceutical measures or the minimum public health standards that have been strengthened through the resolution of the IATF.

USEC. IGNACIO: Dr. Rabi, question from Joseph Morong of GMA News: If you analyze the present situation in the Philippines, what are the areas of improvement in the government’s response to the pandemic?

DR. ABEYASINGHE: So as I already mentioned the need to strengthen the rapid testing and strengthening the contact tracing and management, the identification of sources of infection – where is the transmission actually happening: Is it limited to social gatherings in families or among friends? Is it also being driven by gatherings at both sites and in dormitories? This kind of investigation at local government level is critically important so that we identify those mass amplifying events and do everything possible to minimize the occurrence and the repeat occurrence of such situations.

So this is an area that we have not been able to strengthen over the last few months and maybe this is an opportunity for us to focus on that and identify those settings where we see transmission happening. And to share that information with the public so that the public can avoid those places and protect themselves more effectively.

USEC. IGNACIO: From Sam Medenilla of Business Mirror: Has the WHO already conducted study on the P.3 variant of COVID-19 which was first detected in the Philippines? If yes, is it more infectious than the usual kind of COVID-19?

DR. ABEYASINGHE: So the P.3 variant appears to be linked to the P-1 variant which originally was reported from Manaus in Brazil but with some further mutations. Now the question is, is the P.3 variant associated with the increased transmissibility or increased severity of disease?

WHO here in the Philippines and in other countries where the P.3 variant has been confirmed is working with national authorities including here in DOH and the Philippine Genome Center. We are trying to understand the number of confirmed cases of P.3 variants, what are their clinical symptoms, how many close contacts of them have been infected because all these information will help us to come up with a hypothesis whether the P-3 variant is actually linked to increased transmissibility or causing more severe disease.

So this is an ongoing process. I would like to remind you that the B.1.1.7 variant which was originally detected in the UK in September last year is still being analyzed and we’re trying to understand. So this process takes a long time. The P.3 variant was confirmed only in early March/late February so this is going to take a few more weeks or months to understand the epidemiological significance of the P.3 variant and whether it is actually linked to increased transmissibility or severity of disease.

USEC. IGNACIO: Dr. Rabi, from Joseph Morong: How soon do you think should the Philippines ramp up a vaccination to stem the rise in COVID cases and can the Philippines use Sputnik V for the senior citizens?

DR. ABEYASINGHE: So vaccination is a critical component of a COVID response. We have repeatedly been saying that we want access to vaccines, equitable access to vaccines across the world and especially more so in countries that are seeing an increase in transmission because the impact of the vaccines will be far more marked if we can have populations in those places that are seeing increased transmission vaccinated. So in line with this, we are very much supportive of the Philippine government’s efforts to access vaccines and provide protection to the population. This is of course in addition to the minimum public health standards that need to be reinforced.

What we know is that if we can provide vaccines particularly to the frontliners and the healthcare workers, we will see marked decrease in severe COVID and a decrease in deaths. And this is an immediate aim, this is what we need to aim for now as we strengthen the minimum public health standards in reducing transmission. So if we can access vaccines and provide them to the priority groups, we could expect to see that impact early on. So we encourage the Philippines to access vaccines as early as possible and we certainly are working with the COVAX Facility to expedite deliveries to the Philippines.

With regards to the Sputnik V vaccine and whether they are suitable for elderly populations, I go back to the fact that this vaccine has not been completely evaluated by WHO at this point of time and therefore I would refrain from commenting on that.

USEC. IGNACIO: Thank you very much for your time, Dr. Rabi Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative to the Philippines. Thank you very much. Maraming salamat po.

DR. ABEYASINGHE: Thank you so much. Have a good day.

USEC. IGNACIO: Samantala, nasa 1,600 na po na katao nasalanta ng mga bagyo noong nakaraang taon sa lalawigan ng Isabela ang binalikan at muling hinatiran ng tulong ng pamahalaan at ni Senator Bong Go. Kasama rin po iyong nasa limandaang medical frontliners at mga pasyente sa isang ospital sa probinsya. Narito po ang report:

[NEWS REPORT]

Samantala, isasailalim sa General Community Quarantine ang buong National Capital Region kasama ang mga karatig lalawigan ng Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna at Rizal na tatawagin bilang “NCR Plus” sa loob ng dalawang linggo. Magsisimula ito ngayong araw, March 22, 2021 hanggang April 4, 2021 – iyan po ay base sa pinakahuling resolusyon na inilabas ng Inter-Agency Task Force Against COVID-19 kahapon bilang tugon sa patuloy na paglobo po ng mga kaso ng COVID-19 sa bansa.

Dahil dito, magiging isang travel bubble sa loob ng dalawang linggo ang NCR Plus. Ibig sabihin po, hindi puwedeng pumasok at lumabas mula sa travel bubble na ito ang mga may non-essential travel. Tanging ang mga Authorized Persons Outside of Residence o APOR lang po ang papayagan. Magpapatupad din po ng 10 P.M. to 5 A.M. common curfew sa buong NCR, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna at Rizal.

Para malaman ang mga karagdagang detalye sa bagong paghihigpit na gagawin sa mga apektadong lugar na iyan, makakausap po natin si DILG Spokesperson Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya. Good morning po, Usec.

DILG USEC. MALAYA: Yes. Magandang umaga, Usec. Rocky.

USEC. IGNACIO: Usec., kahapon nga po inanunsiyo na iyong pagkakaroon ng GCQ bubble sa NCR at apat na probinsya na nakapalibot dito. At ang highlight dito ay iyong pag-control sa galaw ng mga tao. Unahin muna natin, sino lang po daw ang papayagang lumabas ng bahay?

USEC. MALAYA: Opo, Usec. Rocky. Ang dahilan po nitong paghihigpit natin ay para nga po hindi na kumalat pa ang COVID-19. So gumawa po ang ating pamahalaan ng tinatawag na travel bubble or itong NCR plus neighboring provinces o iyong tinatawag po nating Mega Manila area. So, hindi muna po makakalabas for two weeks or makakapasok ang mga taong walang essential travel except iyong mga essential workers na makapagpapakita ng ID nila na sila ay kailangang gumalaw dahil sa trabaho: Iyong mga health and emergency frontline services personnel; mga taong gobyerno na may essential na ginagawa; mga kumpanya na humanitarian ang ginagawa; persons travelling for medical or humanitarian reasons; iyong mga papunta po sa airport para bumiyahe papunta sa labas ng bansa and iyong mga pauwi sa Metro Manila galing sa isang leisure activity and of course iyong mga returning Overseas Filipinos and Overseas Filipino Workers.

So lilinawin ko po, lahat po ng hindi pasok dito sa pamantayang ito, kagaya ng lalabas para sa leisure or lalabas para sa travel and tourism purposes ay hindi po pinapahintulutan ngayon, hindi po kayo papayagang lumabas sa mga checkpoints at hindi rin po kayo makakalabas sa ating mga airports and seaports as well.

USEC. IGNACIO: Opo, magsi-set up po ba ulit ng mga checkpoints kada barangay o kada kalsada para po tiyaking walang makakalusot na hindi Authorized Person Outside Residents. At ano lang po iyong need na ipakita ng mga lalabas ng kanilang mga bahay?

USEC. MALAYA: Hindi po tayo maglalagay ng mga checkpoint sa mga barangay o sa loob ng Metro Manila for purposes of the travel bubble. Ang mga checkpoints po natin Usec, ay nasa mga boundaries ng Bulacan papuntang Pampanga, Sa boundary Rizal papunta sa mga karatig probinsiya, sa boundary ng Cavite and Batangas at iyong mga boundaries ng Laguna papunta naman sa Quezon. So nandiyan po ang mga 20 po iyan na tinatawag nating quarantine controlled points, kagabi po ng alas-dose ng hatinggabi ay nakapag-set up na ang ating Joint Task force COVID Shield sa pangunguna ni General Cesar Binag. Iyong mga checkpoints pong inilalagay natin sa Metro Manila ay hindi for purposes of the travel bubble, iyon po ay for purposes of the curfew restrictions natin. Nagtalaga po tayo ng mga sampung libong kapulisan sa buong Metro Manila at karatig lugar para po mai-implement ng maayos iyong ating curfew na nagsisimula ng alas-diez hanggang alas-singko ng madaling araw.

USEC. IGNACIO: Sabi po sa resolution, senior citizens daw po are allowed kung may importanteng gawain katulad po ng mag-exercise at mag-engaged po sa non-contact sports. May limit ba iyong layo na pupuntahan nilang lugar? How do we enforce na hindi po maabuso itong exemption na ito?

USEC. MALAYA: Puwede nga pong lumabas para mag-exercise ang ating mga senior citizens o kaya naman bumili ng pagkain or bumili ng mga gamot sa Mercury Drug for example o sa mga botika natin. Ngunit doon po sa mga outdoor exercises kailangan malapit lang po sa kanilang tinitirhan. Kasi po it will defeat the purpose of itong ating gagawin kung sasabihin natin na iyong taga-Las Piñas ay dadayo pa ng Luneta o iyong mga taga-Parañaque ay dadayo pa ng UP campus para mag-exercise lamang. Doon po tayo mag-exercise sa mga malalapit na lugar sa atin na open air, doon po tayo mag-exercise. Kung kayo po ay nakatira sa subdivision, di sa inyong clubhouse or any open area. Kung kayo naman po ay hindi nakatira sa subdivision. Kahit po saang lugar pero huwag na po tayong dumayo pa sa kabilang bayan para lang po mag-exercise, because it will defeat the very purpose of iyong ating stay at home policy.

USEC. IGNACIO: Paano daw po iyong nasa public transport, iisa-isahin ba ulit iyong purpose ng travel nila kapag dumaan sa border?

USEC. MALAYA: Opo, for purposes of implementing the travel bubble, lahat po ng papasok at palabas ng Metro Manila na nakasakay sa mga pribado o pampublikong sasakyan ay iinspeksiyunin po iyan ng ating kapulisan. So maghanda na po tayo ng mga ebidensiya na tayo ay pasok doon sa IATF resolution number 104, ipakita po natin sa mga pulis na ang ginagawa natin ay essential work or essential function. So puwede pong pababain ang lahat ng nakasakay sa mga public transportation, iyon naman pong mga nakasakay sa pribadong sasakyan ay kailangan lamang buksan ang kanilang mga bintana at isumite sa ating kapulisan iyong ating mga dokumentong magpapatunay na ang ginagawa natin ay essential at hindi leisure or tourism purposes.

USEC. IGNACIO: Usec, unahin ko muna itong tanong ni Pia Gutierrez ng ABS-CBN: LGUs outside the bubble have implemented their own versions of quarantines. Example daw po Pampanga has imposed house quarantine, province-wide. Is this allowed, hindi ba dapat may approval ito ng IATF?

USEC. MALAYA: Hindi pa po maliwanag sa akin Usec, kung ano ang ibig sabihin ng house quarantine ng Pampanga. I would need more details about that. Pero kung ang sinasabi lang ng Pampanga ay iyong mga kabataan, iyong 18 and below and 65 and above have to stay at home, ay wala naman akong nakikitang problema diyan, because that would be consistent with the IATF resolution 104. Ngunit kung ipinagbabawal na po lahat ng tao na lumabas at makapagtrabaho o kaya naman ay mag-access ng essential services o kaya naman gumawa ng isang bagay with relation to livelihood or work, iyan po ay hindi po iyan consistent sa IATF resolution and we would request the Pampanga provincial government to withdraw that policy.

USEC. IGNACIO: Tanong po ni Bea Bernardo ng PTV: Ang non-essential travel po ba, like staycation within the NCR plus bubble ay papayagan o hindi?

USEC. MALAYA: Puwede po iyong mga staycation within Metro Manila dahil nga po ngayong Holy Week marami na pong nagplanong lumabas ngunit dahil nga po dito sa ating imposition of the travel bubble hindi na po kayo makakalabas. Ngunit remember mayroon po tayong prohibition in any form of mass gathering. Ibig pong sabihin kung mag-i-staycation po kayo, kayo lang pong immediate family. Kasi po let me give an example, Usec, lalabas ng Metro Manila pupunta ng Laguna, allowed iyon because we are one contagious area, NCR plus. Pero kung trenta naman kayo at pupunta kayo sa Calamba para mag-swimming o doon sa Los Baños para mag-swimming or sa Pansol. Ipinagbabawal po iyan, hindi po iyan puwede, it must only be your immediate family, dahil ipinagbabawal nga po ng mahigpit iyong public or mass gathering especially po iyong mga indoor gatherings, Usec, kasi di ba kita natin ang hawaan ngayon household level. So any form of indoor gatherings especially iyong more than 10 ay ipinagbabawal po natin.

USEC. IGNACIO: Question from Jacky Manabat ng ABS-CBN: What is the protocol if a passenger daw po test positive for COVID-19 at a transport hub [either with] RT-PCR and antigen?

USEC. MALAYA: Hindi po maliwanag sa akin iyong tanong, kasi if this relates to travel to a province for tourism purposes ipinagbabawal na nga po natin iyan. Ngunit kung mayroon pong APOR na pumunta sa isang probinsiya and the province requires RT-PCR test, kung negative po siya at wala po siyang sintomas, papapasukin po siya ng probinsiya. Ngunit kung siya po ay nag-positive sa antigen or sa RT-PCR test, he will have to be quarantined by the LGU of destination. So doon na po muna siya magka-quarantine hanggang gumaling siya doon sa LGU na kaniyang pinuntahan.

USEC. IGNACIO: Mula pa rin po kay Jacky Manabat: Some of those who tested antigen positive were asked daw po by some barangays to take the taxi from the airport, allowed ba daw and if yes bakit daw po?

USEC. MALAYA: Usec. Rocky saan nangyari ito? Kasi this maybe Metro Manila, this maybe Cebu, this maybe Davao, so I would like to ask Jacky for additional information para mas masagot ko ng tama iyong tanong, kasi nag-iba-iba na kasi iyong rules natin for Metro Manila at iba naman iyong polisiya natin outside of the Greater Manila Area.

USEC. IGNACIO: Opo tanong pa rin po ni Jacky Manabat, who will determine daw po if the travel is essential and non-essential?

USEC. MALAYA: Well, unang-una na person himself ‘no. You will know if your travel is essential, because if you are doing it for purposes of work, you are an architect or you are logistic handler and you have to leave Manila para maghatid ng mga goods, isa kang agriculture—you are related to delivery of food into an outside of Metro Manila.

You are working for Mercury Drug and you are delivering drugs outside of Metro Manila or to Metro Manila, lahat po iyan essential because those are work-related. Pero kung uuwi po tayo sa ating mga probinsiya para magbakasyon, that is not essential work. So, that is leisure and that is already travel and tourism.

So, it will be you at the beginning, but if you will insist it will now be the airlines for those flying outside of the country or the agencies of government at our airports, it will be the seaports, iyong ating mga different sea companies, travel companies for sea travel. And it will also be the police officers manning the checkpoints who will determine if you are undertaking essential travel.

USEC. IGNACIO: Opo. From Reymund Tinaza ng Bombo Radyo: Kung bubble GCQ ang NCR, Rizal, Laguna, Bulacan at Cavite, meaning, puwedeng makabiyahe, walang travel restriction within sa bubble area except kung lalabas sila sa Batangas and Pampanga?

DILG USEC. MALAYA: Yes, tama po iyan. But Usec., this has to be read in conjunction with the prohibition or encouraging the public to stay at home. Kasi unang-una, there’s a variant spreading in Metro Manila at ayaw natin ng super spreader events na magpapataas pa ng 7,500 to baka umabot pa ng 9,000 at makaabot pa ng 10,000 iyan.

So, we urge the public as mentioned in the IATF resolution na huwag na po tayong gumala nang gumala. Although technically allowed po iyan, Usec., because wala naman tayong border controls between Metro Manila and Laguna and Cavite and Bulacan. However, we highly discourage it; stay at home muna po tayo. In fact, we discourage even visiting family members who are not part of your immediate family.

Stay na muna tayo sa ating mga bahay, tulungan ninyo po ang pamahalaan para mapababa natin itong surge na ito dahil kapag hindi na po makayanan ng ating health care system itong numero ng mga COVID positives natin baka po magka-hard lockdown na tayo at ayaw po nating mangyari ang hard lockdown dahil ang dami na pong mga Pilipino ang naghihirap at naaapektuhan nitong pandemyang ito.

USEC. IGNACIO: Opo. Tanong ni Sam Medenilla ng Business Mirror: Pinu-propose daw po ni Mayor Magalong ang pag-tap sa mga PNP personnel para po makatulong sa contact tracing efforts ng government. May response na po kaya ang DILG and PNP regarding sa nasabing proposal?

DILG USEC. MALAYA: Usec., from the very beginning kasama naman talaga ang PNP sa ating contact tracing teams. Iyong una nating mga contact tracing teams na inorganisa noong Marso ay nandoon ang PNP kasama ang BFP, of course iyong local government unit epidemiology unit ‘no, and of course iyong ating mga Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams.

Ngunit dahil nga po sa paglobo ng mga kaso dahil sa surge na ito, noong nakaraang linggo ay nagtalaga ng almost 400 additional contact tracers ang ating kapulisan at ito po ay dineploy physically sa lahat ng local government units sa buong Metro Manila.

Mayroon din pong karagdagang 100 mula naman sa Bureau of Fire Protection, 60 po ng mga bumbero natin ay na-deploy sa Quezon City, iyong 40 naman po ay na-deploy sa Pasay. At mayroon din pong karagdagang 300 mula sa Metro Manila Development Authority.

So, sa tingin po namin, ito pong mga numerong ito ngayon ay sapat ngunit nakikipag-ugnayan pa po kami sa mga LGUs kung mayroon pa po silang karagdagang kailangang contact tracers dahil sila po din ay nagha-hire din. Mayroon silang hiring ng contact tracers na ang magbabayad na po ay ang mga local government units ng Metro Manila.

USEC. IGNACIO: Opo. Last na lang po, quick na lang po, Usec. Tanong ni Sweeden Velado ng PTV: If mass gathering is no longer allowed under the new resolution, does it also mean reception will also be prohibited for baptisms and weddings; also, are senior citizens still allowed to attend events mentioned?

DILG USEC. MALAYA: Yes po, bawal na po lahat ng mass gatherings natin and very clear po ang IATF resolution, lahat po ng misa ay ipinagbabawal na rin natin ‘no. Lahat po ng mga religious services ipinagbabawal po natin.

Ang pinapayagan lang po pero limitado lang ang numero is iyong weddings, binyag at funeral services ngunit hanggang sampu lang pong tao. So, ang ibig hong sabihin, iyong sampung numero na iyon kasama po ang reception diyan. So, kung sino po ang nag-attend ng wedding services sa mga Simbahan man iyan o kung saan man, ganoon din po ang numero sa reception.

USEC. IGNACIO: Okay. Maraming salamat po sa inyong paglilinaw, Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya ng DILG. Stay safe, Usec.

DILG USEC. MALAYA: Maraming salamat din po at mabuhay po kayo.

USEC. IGNACIO: Samantala, naipamahagi na ang emergency housing assistance program ng National Housing Authority sa mga biktima ng sunog sa Barangay Lapasan, Cagayan de Oro City. Higit 100 benepisyaryo ang nakinabang sa housing assistance na ito mula sa pamahalaan. Panoorin po natin ito:

[VTR]

USEC. IGNACIO: Puntahan natin ang mga balitang nakalap ng Philippine Broadcasting Service sa mga lalawigan sa bansa hatid ni John Mogol.

[NEWS REPORTING]

USEC. IGNACIO: Maraming salamat sa iyo, John Mogol ng PBS-Radyo Pilipinas.

At dito po nagtatapos ang ating programa sa araw na ito – ako po ang inyong lingkod, Usec. Rocky Ignacio mula sa PCOO. Hanggang bukas pong muli dito sa Public Briefing #LagingHandaPH.

###


SOURCE: PCOO-NIB (News and Information Bureau-Data Processing Center)