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Rappler : Amid COVID-19 surge, pres’l bets push for more vaccination, testing

News & Interviews
12 January 2022

By JAIRO BOLLEDO, RAMBO TALABONG, PIA RANADA, MARA CEPEDA | Rappler

Here’s what some aspiring presidents and running mates have been doing so far to respond to the latest COVID-19 surge

MANILA, Philippines – As the Philippines welcomed 2022, the country also faced record-breaking COVID-19 cases.

On January 10, the Philippines tallied record-breaking 33,169 new COVID-19 cases – the highest since the pandemic started. A day after that, the country also breached 3 million COVID-19 cases.

The surge was felt almost a month after health officials detected the first case of contagious Omicron variant in the country. Omicron-hit countries also experienced a surge in cases following the detection of the highly-contagious variant.

To aid fellow Filipinos, some political aspirants have pushed and suggested different measures to aid fellow countrymen amid the spiking infections.

Here’s what some aspiring presidents and their running mates have been doing so far to respond to the latest COVID-19 surge:

Leody de Guzman: Strengthen vaccination drives through incentives

Labor leader and Partido Lakas ng Masa presidential bet Leody de Guzman pushed for the strengthening of vaccination drives by providing incentives and not sanctions.

Upang pigilan ang bagong surge, kailangan ipagpatuloy ang pagpapabilis at pagpapalawak ng vaccination drive na umaasa sa pagbibigay ng mga insentibo kaysa sa tahasang koersyon sa masa’t manggagawa tulad ng ‘no vax, no labas’ policy na sinusulong ngayon ng mga Mayor ng Metro Manila,” Leody said in a statement. 

(To curb the new surge, we should continue intensifying our vaccination drives that rely on providing incentives, and not through coercion against the masses and workers like the “no vaccine, no labas” policy that is being pushed by Metro Manila mayors.)

The presidential aspirant also suggested providing paid leaves for workers amid the COVID-19 surge. 

Isang solusyon ay ang pagbibigay ng paid leaves ng pribado at pampublikong sektor sa kanilang mga manggagawa. Maaari ring pag-isipan ang ibahay-bahay ang pagbabakuna, tulad ng ginawa ng ilang LGU (local government units) sa pamamahagi ng ayuda. Makakabawas ito sa posibilidad ng pagkalat ng mikrobyo sa pagpila mismo sa vaccination centers,” Leody added. 

(One solution is by providing paid leaves for the workers in the private and public sector. We can also think of making vaccination per house just like what other LGUs have done with aids. These measures can lessen the spread of microorganisms in the lines in vaccination centers.)

Senator Panfilo Lacson: Test, test, test

For presidential aspirant and Senator Panfilo Lacson, the answer to Omicron is affordable and accessible testing.

The problem, he said, is that Filipinos are feeling sick but a vast majority of those exhibiting symptoms could not afford or could not access any test. Without adequate testing, the government has no complete picture of the severity of the virus’ spread in the country.

“Testing is expensive. Swabbing takes around P3,700, and that’s in a private setting. If you fall in line, of course, that’s a bit cheaper, but not all our fellow Filipinos have the money (to forego lines),” Lacson said in a statement on Monday, January 10.

Lacson’s proposal for local governments and businesses to be more proactive in procuring tests to bring down the prices and to cut down the queues for testing quickly.

Lacson also urged testing centers to keep their clients informed about their tests after Lacson himself experienced Filipinos’ woe of waiting days for their swab test results.

The senator said delays were understandable, but he said the labs should at least show Filipinos “courtesy” to admit to them that they could not process their samples quickly.

Bongbong Marcos, Sara Duterte: Expanded home care for mild COVID-19 patients

The tandem of dictator’s son and presidential bet Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and running mate Sara Duterte called on the country’s COVID-19 task force to issue guidelines for the expansion of home care for mild COVID-19 patients.

According to the tandem, preventive measures should be taken to avoid overwhelming the country’s healthcare system.

“With experts saying that the National Capital Region is expected to break records, recording as high as 20,000 daily cases, we have to do something immediately to prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed,” the tandem said.

On the restrictions for unvaccinated people, Duterte noted that people were given the “freedom to choose.”

“I am pro vaccine and pro booster gyud ko pero in this case, dili lang gyud ko maka (I cannot) agree with the exclusion and restriction for the unvaccinated tungod kay (because) they were given the freedom to choose,” Duterte said.

Isko Moreno, Willie Ong: Back in frontlines; urge LGUs to buy COVID-19 meds

After deciding to put his nationwide “listening tour” on hold indefinitely, Manila Mayor and presidential aspirant Isko Moreno is back in the frontlines of the pandemic.

Some 25 people in his team may have tested positive for COVID-19, but there’s no flagging Moreno’s energy, as evidenced by his frequent Facebook livestreams of various activities, mostly related to his administration’s response to Omicron and the recent surge.

Manila, under Moreno, has maintained a stock of anti-COVID-19 medicines like remdesivir, toxilizumab, molnupiravir, and baricitinib. In response to the recent transmissions, Moreno has announced that free use of these medicines is open even to non-Manileños, as long as they present required documents like a doctor’s prescription.

Some 30,000 tablets of molnupiravir have already been given out to needy persons in different parts of Luzon, aside from Manila residents, according to a press release. City Hall is set to receive 20,000 more tablets the week of January 11.

Moreno has also bannered the free use of swab test facilities in Manila’s six hospitals, even for non-Manileños.

In response to rising rates of hospital occupancy, Moreno has ordered that only severe, critical, and, in some cases, moderate COVID-19 cases be admitted into hospitals. Those with mild or no symptoms will be told to isolate at home or, if they lack space, in Manila’s quarantine facilities.

To lighten the load of Manila businesses, Moreno extended the deadline for the filing or renewal of business permits until March 31, from the original January 20 deadline.

“Ako naman, bilang pamahalaan, sapat na yung nagbayad sila ng buwis. Yung kagaanan, ‘yun lang ang maibigay natin. Hindi naman tayo after doon sa mga penalty. Ang gusto natin, tuloy ang negosyo nila, makapamuhay sila nang maayos sa pagnenegosyo para patuloy silang makapagbigay ng trabaho sa ating mga taga-lungsod,” he added.

(For me, as someone in government, it’s enough that they are paying taxes. To make things easier for them, that’s all we can do. We are not after the penalty. What we want is for their business to continue, for them to do business so they can keep providing jobs to city residents.)

Moreno’s running mate, doctor Willie Ong, has urged other mayors to follow the Manila chief’s lead by ordering COVID-19 medicines themselves, saying these could help prevent deaths.

Manila was the first local government to order molnupiravir, and now, they have ordered Bexovid, the generic version of Paxlovid, the medication developed by Pfizer touted to reduce, by 87%, chances that a COVID-19 patient will get hospitalized or die.

Senator Manny Pacquiao: P50,000 minimum wage for health workers

Presidential aspirant Senator Manny Pacquiao expressed his concern over health workers choosing to leave the country to work overseas. According to Pacquiao, their salaries should be raised to convince them to stay in the country.

According to Pacquiao, nurses, medical technologists, pharmacists, and other health care professionals should have a minimum salary of P50,000. This is on top of other perks like the special risk allowance.

“This P50,000 per month minimum wage is still very low if we compare it with the salaries offered by other countries but it might be enough to convince some of them not to leave their families behind,” Pacquiao said.

The presidential aspirants also opposed the imposition of restrictions against unvaccinated individuals. Pacquiao also called for the suspension of political gatherings amid the COVID-19 surge.

“We need to allow the government to take all the appropriate steps to address the rising number of Covid cases. For this, I have advised my team to temporarily suspend all political gatherings and focus more on organizing zoom meetings until this surge is managed by our health authorities,” Pacquiao said.

Leni Robredo: Swab cab

Vice President and now presidential aspirant Leni Robredo was quick to revive her office’s free mobile antigen testing service Swab Cab as COVID-19 cases started surging in the first week of 2022.

Starting January 5, the Office of the Vice President (OVP) has been moving around various parts of Quezon City to allow both residents and non-residents to get their free antigen tests. An ambulance would be on standby for any person who would test positive and need immediate medical attention.

Robredo also made a fresh call for medical and non-medical volunteers for the OVP’s free teleconsultation service Bayanihan E-Konsulta. This initiative was first launched in April 2021, but Robredo said they need more manpower now as current volunteers are also getting infected with COVID-19.

Patients who avail of the Bayanihan E-Konsulta service are sent COVID-19 Care Kits that contain medicines to manage flu-like symptoms, thermometer, oxymeter, face masks, alcohol, disinfectant, and garbage bags. The kit also contains monitoring sheets for COVID-19 symptoms.

Qualified patients can also get their supply of the COVID-19 pill molnupiravir through the OVP’s partnership with Qualimed. – With reports from Lian Buan, Bea Cupin, and Aika Rey/ Rappler.com