COVID-19 risk high in crowded shopping areas, DOH warns
Shoppers flock to Ylaya street in Divisoria, Manila yesterday amid the threat of COVID-19 infection. The Department of Health is urging people to buy Christmas gifts online instead of doing physical shopping.
Edd Gumban

COVID-19 risk high in crowded shopping areas, DOH warns

Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - November 24, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Worried about the crowding of shoppers in Manila’s Divisoria area last weekend, the Department of Health (DOH) yesterday warned the public that the risk of acquiring COVID-19 from such situations is “very high.”

DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that while it is understandable for people to get excited about Christmas, this should not be a reason for complacency against the coronavirus.

“The risk is very high so we should avoid going to crowded places,” she said, adding that wearing a face mask or face shield will not work if a person is in crowds where physical distancing is nonexistent.

Vergeire explained that this is the reason why the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has not approved mass gatherings.

She urged people to shop online instead of doing physical shopping. Online shopping provides lesser risk of getting infected or passing the virus to others, she said.


Even with two key cities seeing a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, Vergeire said the country’s trend, in general, is “plateauing” with less than 2,000 new cases daily.

The country’s critical care utilization rate is also in “moderate risk” at 50 to 53 percent.

“In general, we see that this is a good indication for us. It means that our health system is able to cope with the cases that we are having,” she said at a press briefing.

Vergeire gave assurance that the government is closely monitoring some areas for increasing cases, citing Davao City and Cebu City in particular.

Davao, she noted, is already implementing measures, including the establishment of One Hospital Command – a networking system to rationalize the distribution of COVID-19 patients in hospitals to contain further spread.

It is also implementing Oplan Kalinga, a setup where recovered patients are transferred from the hospitals to facilities for the “step-down” quarantine and care.

Both measures are intended to decongest overcrowding in hospitals to ensure their critical care utilization is managed well.

As for Cebu City, Vergeire said the government is still investigating the reasons for the rise in cases.

“In general, our cases continuously plateau with less that 2,000 cases per day while our health system is able to cope (with the increase). Our critical care, in general, is moderate risk,” Vergeire added.

Price cap

Malacañang said the price cap on COVID-19 testing, one of the measures that seek to ensure access to affordable health services during the pandemic, may be released this week.

“That will be decided upon by the DOH and DTI (Department of Trade and Industry). If I’m not mistaken, maybe this week, the price cap will be released,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at a virtual press briefing yesterday.?Earlier this month, President Duterte signed Executive Order 118 directing agencies to ensure that COVID-19 tests and test kits are accessible and affordable.

The DOH, in coordination with the DTI, was directed to determine, formulate and implement a price range for COVID-19 testing conducted by hospitals, laboratories and other health establishments and facilities, including the test kits used in the conduct of tests.?The price range will form part of the standards and requirements for licensing and accreditation as COVID-19 testing centers of hospitals, laboratories and other health establishments and facilities.

Both agencies were also directed to monitor and review the prices and market supply of COVID-19 test kits and other medical items and supplies.?At a recent press briefing, Roque said the price of COVID-19 tests could be lowered, noting that Project Ark, a testing initiative launched by the private sector, offers SARS-CoV-2 tests that only cost P1,500 to P2,000. ?Enhancing testing is one of the government’s strategies to contain COVID-19, which has so far infected more than 418,000 persons in the Philippines. – Alexis Romero, Louella Desiderio

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