COVID-19 emergency ‘de facto’ lifted – DOH

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
COVID-19 emergency �de facto� lifted � DOH
A man runs past a COVID-themed mural in Barangay Iilog, Pasig City. At right, Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa speaks during a press conference the other day. The DOH chief said yesterday President Marcos is expected to formally order soon the lifting of the COVID-19 public health emergency in the country.
Michael Varcas, Edd Gumban

MANILA, Philippines — With the wearing of face masks now optional and COVID just like common respiratory diseases, the Department of Health (DOH) said the state of public health emergency has been “de facto” lifted.

In a press briefing at Malacañang yesterday, Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa said President Marcos is inclined to lift the emergency status, adding that one of the Chief Executive’s first instructions to him was to “get out of the COVID pandemic.”

Herbosa noted that the country had suffered huge economic losses due to pandemic-induced restrictions.

The DOH is only waiting for a resolution of the government’s pandemic task force to formally lift the COVID state of emergency, Herbosa said.

“I am just waiting for that IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) resolution,” he said.

The IATF resolution was issued by then DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire.

“I think at the time, they were still hesitant because there was the problem of how we would get the bivalent vaccines if we lifted it. But now, I think that obstacle is gone, because we now have a CPR (certificate of product registration) and everything,” Herbosa said.

He said the resolution lifting the COVID health emergency would be released soon.

“We’re getting there,” Herbosa said.

The state of public health emergency was declared by then president Rodrigo Duterte in March 2020 through Proclamation No. 922.

The declaration sought to mobilize state resources needed to contain the pandemic and to protect the public from the virus.

Section 5 of the proclamation states that the COVID health emergency will remain in effect until withdrawn by the President.

According to Herbosa, the IATF had recommended the lifting, but the Office of the President had to study its consequences, including the removal of the emergency use authorization for the acquisition of bivalent vaccines.

“But recently, as you heard, Pfizer was given a CPR by the Food and Drug Administration. So the bivalent is now going to be commercially available,” he said.

Herbosa said the government is still negotiating with the Covax Facility for two million bivalent doses for those who cannot afford to buy the vaccine.

He said the vaccines that were given to the Philippines through the emergency use authorization may still be distributed since they are still valid as booster doses.

But he noted that the demand is now directed toward the bivalent jabs that provide better protection against Omicron variants.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has removed COVID-19 from the list of public health emergencies of international concern.

“So it’s considered by WHO as just one of the diseases,” Herbosa said.

“And even for us doctors, we also consider COVID as just one of the respiratory illnesses. There is still the risk of death for vulnerable people, especially the elderly and those with medical conditions or immunocompromised. But the number of deaths has declined,” he added.

Herbosa attributed the improving pandemic situation to vaccination and the milder Omicron subvariant.

“But we still have to protect ourselves. I think the public health warning is you still have to protect yourself if you are vulnerable, and you still need to get the vaccine if you want to be protected,” the health chief said.

Bivalent jabs

Aside from health care workers and senior citizens, the young members of the population aged five to 17 may soon become part of the priority groups to be inoculated with bivalent vaccine, infectious diseases expert Dr. Rontgene Solante said.

With the increasing number of people needing bivalent boosters, Solante said the government should not rely on donations and should allocate funding for its purchase.

The Lithuanian government has donated 390,000 doses of bivalent vaccine to the Philippines.

The government is expecting another two million doses of bivalent jabs from the COVAX Facility.

“But this will not be enough for the vulnerable population,” Solante said. “There are 3.4 million health care workers and seven million senior citizens who are eligible for the bivalent jabs.”  – Rhodina Villanueva

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