Govt adjusts response strategy for Omicron

THE government has reformulated its Covid-19 response strategy to make it more effective against the new wave of cases that is fueled by the Omicron variant.

The Department of Health (DoH) has revised its isolation and quarantine protocols that were designed to contain previous surges driven by Delta and earlier variants.

Under the revised protocols, fully vaccinated persons who are Covid-positive will be isolated for seven days, and partially vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals for 10 days.

The same procedure applies to the asymptomatic, with the first day being the date of their RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) test.

TICKET TO RIDE Passengers show their vaccination cards from inside a passenger bus on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, as the government gears up for the implementation of its ‘NO Vaxx, NO Ride’ policy on public transportation starting on Monday, January 17. PHOTO BY JOHN ORVEN VERDOTE

TICKET TO RIDE Passengers show their vaccination cards from inside a passenger bus on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, as the government gears up for the implementation of its ‘NO Vaxx, NO Ride’ policy on public transportation starting on Monday, January 17. PHOTO BY JOHN ORVEN VERDOTE

Moderate cases will be isolated for 10 days regardless of their vaccination status.

Severe and critical patients must isolate for up to 21 days from symptom onset.

Immunocompromised individuals must isolate themselves for 21 days.

The quarantine period for close contacts of asymptomatic cases has been shortened to five days for the vaccinated and 14 days for the unvaccinated.

Health care workers considered as close contacts must be quarantined for up to five days if they are fully vaccinated. Those who have received booster shots may forego isolation altogether.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a press briefing Friday that the adjustments in the Covid response took into consideration the evidence of the vaccines’ effectivity against the virus, the characteristic of Omicron, and the strain on the health system from prolonged isolation and quarantine of close contacts.

Vergeire said the new policies are also aligned with the revisions in quarantine measures across the globe.

Under the new strategy, only health workers, senior citizens and persons with underlying conditions need to be tested because they are the most vulnerable to developing severe Covid.

The new plan also emphasizes home isolation and teleconsultation.

At the same briefing, Vergeire said Covid-19 cases in the country will not peak before the end of January.

OCTA Research Senior Fellow Dr. Guido David earlier projected that the surge is “close to peaking or has already matured” in the National Capital Region (NCR).

Vergeire said there is no such thing as a “maturing surge,” and that cases will continue to rise not just in NCR but in other regions under Alert Level 3.

In a separate interview on Friday. Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd played down calls to make free testing available in the country.

Duque said it was not financially feasible for the government to do massive testing.

To test the country’s population will require 700,000 tests a day. At P2,000 per test, “that is P1.4 billion a day, that is P14 billion per 10 days, P42 billion in one month,” he said.

That amount would be better spent if it funded healthcare workers’ benefits and assistance to communities under granular lockdowns, Duque added.

A RT-PCR test costs from P2,400 to P2,800 in government laboratories, and P3,400 to 4,000 in private laboratories.

On Friday, the country tallied 37,207 Covid cases, pushing the total to 3.13 million.

The positivity rate was steady at 47.3 percent.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said over 54 million Filipinos or more than 70 percent of the population are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Citing data from the National Vaccination Operations Center, Galvez said 117,383,756 doses have been administered as of January 13.

He said 54,457,863 individuals are fully vaccinated, or 70.60 percent of the target population.

As of January 14, 4,415,333 individuals have received booster additional doses.

Despite logistical limitations and the present wave of infections, the average daily jab rate still reached 1.04 million over the past three days, he said.

The government aims to fully vaccinate at least 77 million in the first quarter of this year, and 90 million by the end of the second quarter.

As of January 13, six regions have passed the 70 percent mark in terms of fully vaccinated individuals.

Metro Manila tops the list with 109.07 percent, followed by Cordillera Administrative Region (78.43 percent), Ilocos (78.17 percent), Cagayan Valley (74.93 percent), Central Luzon (75.74 percent) and Calabarzon (71.92 percent).

Galvez called on all local government units (LGUs) to continue strengthening their vaccination strategies.

“This current Omicron surge will target the unvaccinated. Sa lahat ng ating mga LGU, gawin natin ang lahat ng ating makakaya para mahikayat ang ating mga mamamayan na magpabakuna na para makaiwas sa severe cases, pagkaospital o pagkamatay (To all our LGUs, let’s do our best to encourage our citizens to get vaccinated so we can prevent severe cases, hospitalization or even death),” he said.

The Philippines has received 213,655,520 doses of Covid-19 vaccines from various manufacturers.

Over 96 million doses are stocked in warehouses, ready to be deployed to LGUs throughout the country.

Acting Palace spokesman Karlo Alexei Nograles said the government has simplified rules for Covid-19 vaccination to encourage more Filipinos to get jabbed.

In a virtual press briefing, Nograles said walk-ins or vaccination without prior appointment are now allowed at inoculation sites.

Nograles said only those with a history of hypertension or showing its signs are required to get their blood pressure taken before vaccination.

He also said that medical certificates are also not necessary unless the person has an autoimmune disease, HIV or cancer, or is a transplant patient, patient undergoing steroid treatment or bedridden.