In this Jan. 31, 2020 photo, pedestrians in Metro Manila are shown wearing face masks, a day after the Department of Health confirmed the first case of novel coronavirus in the Philippines.
The STAR/Edd Gumban
Public urged not to hoard face masks needed by frontline health workers battling nCoV
Alexis Romero ( - February 3, 2020 - 6:01pm

MANILA, Philippines — A health official Monday urged the public not to hoard face masks to ensure that there would be enough supply for health workers tending to patients who have exhibited symptoms of the novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease or nCoV ARD.

Research Institute for Tropical Medicine Director Celia Carlos said there is no community transmission of the virus in the Philippines so her agency is not yet recommending its use for those who do not have respiratory symptoms like cough and difficulty of breathing.

“We should reserve the face masks to those who need them. There is already a shortage of this valuable commodity, and we should give them to those who need them most: the health workers,” Carlos said at a press briefing in Malacañang.

Citing guidelines from the World Health Organization, Carlos said one should wear a mask if he has respiratory symptoms, if he is providing care to individuals with respiratory symptoms, and if one is a health worker attending to individuals with respiratory symptoms.

Some stores in Metro Manila have ran out of face masks due to high demand, according to previous reports. Officials have warned businesses not to sell overpriced masks or face charges.

Ready for outbreak

Carlos said there are efforts to buy huge amounts of personal protective equipment from local and international sources in anticipation of a possible outbreak or wider spread of the virus. She said RITM has a "surge capacity plan" that includes the training designed to enable laboratories in the country to conduct testing.

"We just acquired the technology fairly recently, we may need to first make an assessment of five sub-national laboratories previously identified," Carlos added.

The health official said measures are in place to ensure the safety of health workers who are in the front lines in the fight to contain the infection.

"For San Lazaro and RITM, we have set standard procedures on standard prevention and control and that covers a lot of things from the wearing of the personal protective equipment to handling of patients to cleaning of rooms occupied by infected patients," Carlos said.

"Both of the hospitals have a long history of handling emerging infectious diseases. So far we have been good, the health workers, none of them, so far, have been infected," she added.

Carlos said health workers have also been requested to monitor their temperature twice a day.

"We quarantine them in case they develop any symptoms and we manage the symptoms," she added.

Asked if there is a need to provide the health workers additional pay, Carlos said it is not within her power to determine whether it should be given.

"But if that is recommended, I'm sure all of us will welcome that, especially from RITM and San Lazaro... But we have a standard hazard pay in government but there more people who are exposed to more hazards than others but they receive the same remunerations," she added.

WHO: Virus can be contained

WHO Representative in the Philippines Rabindra Abeyasinghe expressed optimism that the nCoV ARD can be contained and called on the public to "act rationally."

"The (emergency) committee (of the international health regulation) and WHO continues to believe that the outbreak can be controlled and the spread of the virus can be stopped. WHO is working together with member states to strengthen their preparedness capacities to improve their ability to deal with possible or likely cases and to better manage those cases," Abeyasinghe said at the same press briefing.

"The WHO continues to work together with the Department of Health Philippines and the Filipino government to increase its preparedness and response capacities to deal with this outbreak. We remain confident that the outbreak can be controlled and we can prevent expanded spread of this disease," he added.

Abeyasinghe also commended the Philippine government for its efforts to strengthen its preparedness and to build its capacity to detect cases of the virus.

Carlos said the tests conducted on patients exhibiting symptoms of nCoV ARD costs about P15,000 to P20,000 but the government is doing it for free. She confirmed that the government is also considering Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija as one of the sites for the quarantine facility.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: May 28, 2020 - 4:08pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

May 28, 2020 - 4:08pm

The Department of Health reports 539 new cases of the coronavirus disease, the highest in a single day, taking the national tally to 15,588.

There are 92 new recoveries and 17 new fatalities, the health department adds.

May 28, 2020 - 3:53pm

South Korea re-imposes a series of coronavirus social distancing measures on Thursday, as a series of clusters threatens to challenge its success in containing the epidemic.

Museums, parks and art galleries in the Seoul metropolitan area will all be closed again for two weeks from Friday, says health minister Park Neung-hoo, while companies are urged to re-adopt flexible working practices, among other measures. 

"We have decided to strengthen all quarantine measures in the metropolitan area for two weeks from tomorrow to June 14," he says. — AFP

May 28, 2020 - 7:20am

Brazil's death toll from the new coronavirus surpasses 25,000 on Wednesday, as the country emerges as the latest epicenter in the pandemic.

The health ministry says it had confirmed 1,086 new deaths in the past 24 hours, the fifth time the daily toll has exceeded 1,000 since the crisis accelerated in Brazil last week.

That pushes the nationwide death toll to 25,598.

The country of 210 million people now has 411,821 confirmed cases of the virus, second only to the United States. Experts say under-testing means the real figures are probably much higher. — AFP

May 28, 2020 - 7:19am

The United States has now recorded more than 100,000 coronavirus-related deaths, Johns Hopkins University reported Wednesday — a somber milestone and by far the highest total in the world.

The country reported its first death about three months ago. Since then, nearly 1.7 million infections have been tallied nationwide, according to the Baltimore-based school.

The actual number of deaths and infections is believed to be higher, experts say. — AFP

May 27, 2020 - 8:35pm

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused surging unemployment worldwide, but has hit young workers especially hard, forcing more than one in six people aged under 29 to stop working, the UN said Wednesday.

In a fresh study, the International Labor Organization warned that the novel coronavirus crisis has disproportionately affected young people, and could impact upon their work opportunities and career options for decades to come.

"I don't think it is giving way to hyperbole to talk about the danger of a lockdown generation," ILO chief Guy Ryder told a virtual press conference. — AFP

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