DOH says no need to panic over rise in COVID cases

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 04 2023 03:41 PM | Updated as of May 04 2023 05:37 PM

ABS-CBN News/File
Passengers traveling via the MRT-3 North Avenue station in Quezon City wear face masks on April 25, 2023. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday sought to allay concern over a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the country. 

"We don't need to panic," DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire told the House Appropriations Committee. 

"Ang tinitignan na natin kasi po ngayon 'yong healthcare system capacity. If it's manageable, then we are good," she said.

The Philippines on Wednesday reported 867 additional coronavirus infections, while the nationwide positivity rate reached 17.1 percent.

COVID variants, public mobility, waning immunity, and decline in mask use contributed to the uptick in cases, Vergeire said. 

But when asked about a return of mask mandates, Vergeire said, “We do not like back-and-forth policies that every time the cases rise, ibabalik ang restriction; 'pag nawala, tatanggalin.”

(We do not like back-and-forth policies that every time the cases rise we bring back restrictions and if cases decrease we ease rules.)

“We'd like that our individual behaviors or risk should be assessed by each and every one of us. We know how to protect ourselves,” she said, urging Filipinos to get booster shots against COVID-19.


Vergeire said donated bivalent vaccines, which would arrive by the end of May, would be given first to frontliners and senior citizens.

Bivalent vaccines are modified jabs that target the omicron variant and the original form of the virus.

The DOH "opted for donations" and had yet to procure bivalent vaccines because "we didn't have a policy basis for us to go through the procurement process," Vergeire said, citing the lifting of the state of calamity for COVID-19.

"Because of that, [our] vaccination law became invalid," Vergeire said.


The DOH is still waiting for the results of the latest genome sequencing to check if omicron subvariant XBB.1.16, dubbed "Arcturus" on social media, has spread to other areas, Vergeire said.

So far, the Philippines has detected one case of the Arcturus. The patient has recovered.

The government is also preparing to "decouple" or separate the COVID alert levels from restrictions, according to Vergeire.

The alert levels will instead serve as a risk communication tool for communities and local government units.

"Di na po natin itatali 'yung restrictions doon,” Vergeire said.

(We no longer base restrictions there.) 

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The DOH said it had advised hospitals to prepare for COVID-19 admissions amid the reported uptick in infections.

Vergeire noted that COVID-19 wards nationwide have not been closed. 

She added that most of the new cases were hospitalized for reasons other than the coronavirus.

"Meron po tayong ibang mga ospital na nag-aadmit ngayon ng COVID but most of those who I have talked to usually coincidental po yung sakit," Vergeire told Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo.

(We have some hospitals admitting COVID patients but most of those who I have talked to usually had other reasons for hospitalization and the virus was detected coincidentally.)

"Halimbawa po inoperahan, swinab, nagpa-positive, nanganak, nagpa-positive. So iyon po iyong ganoong kaso ang mas marami tayo ngayon although we cannot deny the fact na meron talagang may mga sakit na nagpapositive," she said.

(For instance, some patients are scheduled for surgery or women about to give birth test positive for COVID-19 when they undergo swab tests. Those are the cases that we have now, although we cannot deny the fact that there are those who are really infected and test positive for COVID-19.)


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