Report on PH looming as SEA’s COVID-19 epicenter ‘speculative’, Testing Czar says

Robie de Guzman   •   August 6, 2020   •   504

MANILA, Philippines – Declaring the Philippines as the next possible epicenter of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Southeast Asia is speculative, the government’s testing czar Vince Dizon said Thursday.

Dizon issued the statement in response to a report from Singapore-based The Straits Times which claimed that the Philippines could soon become the new virus epicenter in Southeast Asian region due to the continued increase in COVID-19 infections.

The Philippines on Thursday reported 3,561 additional infections, bringing the total number of cases to 119,460. Of the total number, 50,473 are active cases.

Dizon pointed out that the increase in the country’s coronavirus infections is only “normal” due to improved testing capacity and increased contact among the public following the relaxation of community quarantine measures to reopen the slumping economy.

“Speculative ‘yun pero ang masasabi ko, dumami na ang testing natin. Tayo na ang pinakamataas sa Southeast Asia sa testing per day. Nasa halos 1.7 million na ang nate-test natin sa buong bansa. Mahigit 1 million diyan ay nasa NCR (National Capital Region) lamang at tuluy-tuloy nating gagawin ito,” he said during a press briefing.

“Habang tayo ay nagtetest, talagang marami tayong makikitang positibo. Pero mas importante ‘yun kasi kung hindi natin sila mahahanap at hindi natin sila mai-isolate e lalong kakalat at lalong dadami ang magkakasakit,” he added.

The government has re-imposed stricter community quarantine measures over Metro Manila and nearby areas until August 18 in the hopes of arresting the rising cases of COVID-19.

The move follows the call of the medical community for a timeout to recuperate from the exhausting battle against the pandemic. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Aiko Miguel)

PH gov’t to increase COVID-19 testing up to 90K a day – Dizon

Robie de Guzman   •   March 30, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The government is looking to ramp up the number of COVID-19 tests in Metro Manila and nearby provinces especially amid the enforcement of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), testing czar Vince Dizon said Tuesday.

“Sinabi na po ni IATF chairperson na si (Health) Secretary Francisco Duque na mag-ramp up tayo ng ating testing and detection dito sa NCR (National Capital Region), Bulacan, Cavite, and Rizal lalong-lalo na ngayong panahon ng ECQ,” Dizon said during a Palace online briefing.

Dizon said they are eyeing to increase the COVID-19 tests up to 90,000 per day.

To achieve this, the testing czar said the government will be using antigen test kits validated by the World Health Organization, through its emergency use listing, and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) along with the RT-PCR test.

He said antigen tests will be used in areas with high number of COVID-19 cases such as Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal – collectively tagged as the ‘NCR Plus’ bubble.

Dizon said the use of antigen test kits will help the government in immediately identifying those infected with coronavirus as it can yield faster results.

The test kits will also be used in hospitals to test suspected patients and healthcare workers.

“Ito rin po ang gagamitin ng mga mayor para magtest sa mga lugar, lalo na sa mga barangay na mataas ang kaso,” he added.

Currently, the country conducts more than 51,000 RT-PCR tests a day.

Dizon said the government will procure additional 30,000 antigen test kits along with the RT-PCR tests to achieve the targeted 90,000 tests per day. He, however, noted that these kits will only be limited to the NCR Plus area.

The testing czar further stated that the 500,000 antigen test kits, as announced earlier by the Malacañang, are still being procured by the Office of the Civil Defense (OCD).

The OCD is only allowed to purchase the antigen kits brands Panbio COVID-19 Ag rapid test kit, SD Biosensor test kit, and Lansion test kit.

“Ang target po natin ay mag-procure ang OCD ng 500,000 antigen test kits para mai-deploy sa mga communities at iba’t ibang ospital sa ECQ area,” he said.

Dizon also reported that the country so far has 239 testing laboratories all over the country.

PH gov’t not favoring any firm in COVID-19 vaccine procurement – Dizon

Robie de Guzman   •   January 12, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government is not favoring any pharmaceutical company in the procurement of a vaccine against novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Secretary Vince Dizon, the government’s testing czar and deputy chief implementer of the National Action Plan against COVID-19, said.

During a Senate hearing on the government’s COVID-19 vaccination plan on Monday, Dizon stressed that the government is pursuing the safety and efficacy of a vaccine and is negotiating with all companies that have developed a potential vaccine against the virus.

“Wala po tayong policy na pinapaboran ang isang vaccine o isang bansa. Lahat po ng vaccines na safe and effective ay ipu-pursue ng national government, vaccine czar, at vaccine cluster,” he said.

Dizon made the remark after Senator Richard Gordon said that the Philippines seems to be lagging behind other countries in terms of procuring COVID-19 vaccines.

Gordon also surmised that the Philippines is favoring a Chinese-made vaccine with the hope that its supply could be given for free.

“Hindi kaya pinagbibigyan natin yung isang bansa diyan na gustong magbili sa atin pero medyo nakaantala yun sa atin dahil umaasa tayo na makakakuha tayo ng libre,” he said.

“Mayroong mga nagsulat na sinasabi eh may preference raw ang administrasyon sa Chinese medicine… I hope that’s not the reason bakit tayo medyo nahuli as you said,” he added.

Dizon assured that that is not the case and that the government is currently working on securing supply deals with other vaccine manufacturers.

Negotiations with pharmaceutical companies are also on final stages, he added.

Malacañang earlier said the government has already secured 25 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from China’s Sinovac. An initial batch of 50,000 doses of this vaccine will be delivered in the country by next month.

Apart from China’s Sinovac, the government said it is also eyeing to roll out in February the distribution of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine via the COVAX facility.

The COVAX facility is a platform that seeks to ensure fast and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

Senate approves Bayanihan 2 bill on final reading

Robie de Guzman   •   July 28, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Tuesday approved on third and final reading the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One (Bayanihan 2) bill which seeks to extend the powers granted to the Duterte administration to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Twenty-two senators voted to pass the measure while Senator Francis Pangilinan was the lone dissenter.

The upper chamber passed the bill a day after President Rodrigo Duterte appealed to legislators to expedite its passage during his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Under the Bayanihan 2 bill, the allocation of a P140-billion standby fund is proposed to help sectors and industries heavily-hit by the pandemic. It also seeks to provide funds for the procurement of additional COVID-19 testing equipment as well as the implementation of assistance programs for displaced workers, low-income households and other sectors. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

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