MANILA — At least two COVID-19 referral hospitals in Metro Manila said Sunday they are prepared for the possibility of a surge in infections following the emergence of the more contagious Omicron variant.
In the event that the number of COVID-19 cases starts to rise, the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and Lung Center of the Philippines are ready to convert non-COVID wards into facilities catering to patients of the respiratory disease, hospital officials said.
"Parang kagaya dati, magbubukas ka ng COVID wards, isasara mo iyong ibang non-COVID wards, magre-realign ka ng mga tao. Medyo sanay na kami sa ganoong operations kaya mabilis na iyong transition," Dr. Jonas del Rosario, spokesperson of the Manila-based PGH, said in a TeleRadyo interview.
(Just like in past surges, we'll open the COVID wards, close the non-COVID wards and realign manpower. We're used to those kinds of operations so the transition will be fast.)
The PGH currently has 325 COVID-19 beds, although only 63 are occupied, according to Del Rosario.
The hospital's emergency room, however, remains overwhelmed due to a rise in non-COVID patients.
Del Rosario appealed to the public to avoid going to the PGH emergency room unless the patient is suffering from a "life-threatening emergency."
"Iyong ibang hindi life-threatening, sa ibang ospital muna po magpunta," he said.
(Those cases which aren't life threatening can go to other hospitals.)
Del Rosario added that the hospital is in need of doctors, nurses and medical technicians after several staff members resigned to work overseas.
At the Lung Center in Quezon City, Spokesperson Dr. Norberto Francisco said the hospital has an "advanced strategy plan" in case the number of COVID-19 patients begins to increase.
"Naka-layout na po iyan in all aspects. Personnel, equipment, spaces, expansion, kung paano ang gagawin kapag may ganyan (surge)," Francisco said.
(The plan includes a layout in all aspects. Personnel, equipment, spaces, expansion, what we will do if ever there's a surge.)
"Tayo ay naka-ilang surge na tayo since last year and kahit papaano, natuto naman tayo kung paano mag-convert from a non-COVID to a COVID ward."
(We've experienced a number of surges last year and we've learned to convert non-COVID to COVID wards.)
Francisco urged non-COVID patients to take advantage of the drop in virus cases in the hospital and proceed with their medical checkups.
"Now is the time to go the hospital," he said.
Aside from PGH and Lung Center, private hospitals are also preparing for a possible spike in COVID-19 cases due to the new variant.
The World Health Organization said preliminary evidence on Omicron suggested that the variant could spread more readily than earlier COVID-19 strains.
Despite this, experts from the OCTA Research Group believe that the chances of experiencing a surge is "much smaller than before," noting the high vaccination rate in Metro Manila and major cities.
"If Omicron lands at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, it will struggle to spread because everybody in Manila is vaccinated," OCTA fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco told TeleRadyo in a separate interview.
The Philippines has recorded a total of 2,834,294 COVID-19 cases as of Saturday, of which 14,338 are active.
It has yet to detect a case of the Omicron variant, which was first confirmed in South Africa.
More than 37.3 million people in the Philippines have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, accounting for 48.4 percent of the government's 77.1 million, data monitored as of Dec. 2 by the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group showed.
Over 52.4 million others have received their initial dose, while more than 421,000 booster doses have been administered.
Austriaco said health authorities are still studying how much protection the existing vaccines provide against the Omicron variant.