The country on Friday posted a new single-day record in coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) cases, prompting calls for hospitals to assign more beds for Covid patients.
The Department of Health (DoH) reported 9,838 new cases, close to an earlier forecast of more than 10,000 cases by the end of March.
The overall case total was 702,856, with 109,018 active cases.
Treatment czar and Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega on Friday urged hospitals to bring their capacity to up to 50 percent by freeing up more beds or building more temporary treatment facilities and modular hospitals.
In Metro Manila, which along with four nearby provinces is experiencing an unprecedented rise in cases since last week, ICU beds were at a critical 70 percent, isolation beds at 68 percent and ward beds at 55 percent.
Vega said 53 percent of active cases in the country were in the so-called National Capital Region Plus (NCR plus) bubble, which include Cavite, Laguna, Bulacan and Batangas.
“Sa pag-ikot ho namin, napapansin namin na may mild cases na na-admit sa hospital kaya tumataas na rin ang admission rate nila (When we went around these hospitals, we saw that there were mild cases that were admitted in the hospital that is why their admission rates have increased),” he said.
The cities of Makati, Manila, Quezon City and Taguig are almost maxed out in admitting Covid-19 patients, especially those in critical condition.
Vega urged all level-three hospitals in the bubble to consider raising their Covid-19 bed capacity from 30 percent to 50 percent.
The isolation cluster, headed by the Department of Public Works and Highways, is also continuing to build more modular hospitals to serve moderate and severe cases, he said.
April 8, a 110-bed modular hospital will be opened at the Quezon Institute to be managed by the staff of Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center. A 44 bed-modular hospital will be operational at the Batangas Medical Center by the third week in April.
Another modular hospital in Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Caloocan City needs personnel to run it, Vega said.
There are plans to add more modular hospitals in the Quezon Institute, Jose N. Rodriguez and Lung Center of the Philippines within 45 days, to bring capacity to more than 330 beds.
Vega is also open to having reverse quarantine options for areas with no isolation facilities, where family members are instead being separated to allow a confirmed patient to be quarantined at home.
He said his group was negotiating with drug manufacturers for additional supplies of tocilizumab and remdesivir, which are being used to shorten the hospital stay of Covid-19 patients.
The DoH has given an additional P5 million to hospitals for them to buy the two medicines.
As the number of Covid-19 cases continued to rise, the government allowed the use of the second batch of the donated vaccine from China in areas worst hit by new, more contagious variants of the virus.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (Nitag) allocated 400,000 doses of CoronaVac from Sinovac Biotech that arrived Wednesday to Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao.
On March 1, the country started vaccinating health workers using at least a million vaccine doses donated by China and the World Health Organization-led Covax Facility.
The Philippines previously received 525,600 doses from British-Swedish manufacturer AstraZeneca through the Covax Facility.
Between March 24 and 26, over 979,200 more AstraZeneca doses from Covax will be shipped to the country.
One million more CoronaVac doses purchased by the government are also expected to arrive on March 29.
While initial doses from Sinovac and AstraZeneca have been rolled out, the government was also negotiating with different pharmaceutical companies, to ensure the country can vaccinate 70 million of the population in order to achieve herd immunity.
Aside from CoronaVac, other Covid-19 vaccines given emergency use authorization (EUA) by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration were Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Sputnik V.
The DoH, meanwhile, has maintained that no Covid-19 vaccine will be sold commercially.
According to Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, under the terms of the EUA, no vaccines will be sold commercially and those vaccines that are being “sold”, either through online or offline resellers, only mean that it is questionable to begin with.
Vergeire said vaccines that are being sold could cause more harm than their intended effect of protecting oneself from Covid-19.
FDA Deputy Director General Dr. Oscar Gutierrez, in an email response to The Manila Times, admitted that a fake vaccine produced by unscrupulous businessmen or criminals can be difficult to spot, but there are tell-tale signs.
Among the signs are dirty or scratched vials, worn out labelling, dented aluminum seal or punctured rubber seals, Gutierrez said.
The vaccine solution can also become cloudy or there are foreign matters inside the vial.
Gutierrez said the fake vaccine may be administered in an area that is not a DoH-authorized vaccination site.
The DoH has also assured that the 7,500 doses delivered to the Bicol Region were potent and usable.
Concerns about the doses’ potency were raised after a box containing the vaccines logged a temperature of more than 400 degrees Celsius, prompting an investigation by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund, which manages the vaccine deployment.
Vergeire said it turned out that the thermometer was faulty, and the equipment used to store and deliver the vaccines remained usable.