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Senator asks: What’s the plan for new coronavirus strain?

A SENATOR on Sunday urged the Health department to draft a contingency plan for a potential surge in coronavirus infections once a new strain enters the Philippines.

“We need to prepare our hospitals for the worst-case scenario,” Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said in a statement on Sunday. “The UK COVID-19 variant is a game changer, and if we are caught off guard many will die.”

Health authorities on Friday said they were monitoring the entry of two other coronavirus vaccines aside from a more contagious strain from the United Kingdom (UK). The two other variants are from South Africa and Malaysia.

It said the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) had not detected the UK variant after testing 305 positive samples from various hospitals in the past two months and from inbound travelers tested at the airports.

A Filipina domestic helper, who arrived in Hong Kong on Dec. 22, tested positive for the new strain.

The 30-year-old migrant worker left Cagayan Valley in northern Philippines on Dec. 17 and arrived in Manila the next day, where she got quarantined, the agency said last week, citing a report by Hong Kong health authorities.

She tested negative for the coronavirus before her flight to Hong Kong and she was quarantined after arriving there, DoH said.

On Jan. 2, the woman was tested again and was found to have been positive for the more contagious coronavirus variant, it said. She was isolated in Hong Kong and was stable, it added.

Philippine health authorities are conducting contact tracing in Cagayan Valley and Metro Manila so people who had contact with her could be quarantined and tested. The UK coronavirus strain could increase the number of cases by 15 times because it is said to be 70% more infectious, Ms. Baraquel said, citing data from health research institute Epimetrics, Inc.

“We can’t be in denial about the threat of the COVID-19 variant,” she said in Filipino. “We can’t go back to square one.”

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 1,906 coronavirus infections on Sunday, bringing the total to 487,690. The death toll rose by eight to 9,405 while recoveries increased by 8,592 to 458,198, it said in a bulletin.

There were 20,087 active cases 83% of which were mild, 5.8% did not show symptoms, 6.8% were critical, 3.7% were severe and 0.63% were moderate.

Quezon City reported the highest number of new cases at 121, followed by Benguet at 84, Davao City at 82, Cavite at 79 and Bulacan at 75.

DoH said 13 duplicates had been removed from the tally, while two recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. Five laboratories failed to submit their data on Jan. 9. 

About 6.6 million people have been tested for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the Philippines as of Jan. 8, according to DoH’s tracker website.

The coronavirus has sickened about 90.1 million and killed 1.9 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

About 64.5 million people have recovered, it said.

Meanwhile, the Philippine government on Jan. 9 signed a term sheet with Serum Institute of India and its local partner Faberco Life Sciences, Inc. for the supply of 30 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine Covovax, Faberco said in an e-mailed statement on Sunday.

The vaccine will become available in the third quarter, Faberco said.

“This is a significant milestone in relations between India and the Philippines,” Faberco founder Kishore Hemlani said in the statement. “It shows that we don’t have to look far beyond Philippine shores to find friends who are willing to help each other out.”

Serum Institute partnered with Novavax, a US-based biotechnology company for the development and commercialization of the Covovax vaccine. The vaccine is in its third-stage trials and expected to be approved for use by international regulators, Faberco said.

The Senate will convene the committee of the whole on Monday to inquire about the government’s immunization plan for the coronavirus.

The government has set aside P2.5 billion, under DoH’s budget this year, for the immunization program and P70 million more in unprogrammed funds.

Another P10 billion has been allotted under a stimulus law, bringing the total vaccine budget to P82.5 billion.

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson in a separate statement said he would put Health officials to task for failing to act promptly in securing vaccines from US drugmaker Pfizer, Inc. and China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).

Meanwhile, detained Senator Leila M. de Lima filed a bill that will expand senior citizen discounts to medicines, supplements and vitamins. The law only provides discounts for essential medical supplies, accessories and equipment, she said. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Vann Marlo M. Villegas

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