WHO frets over PH COVID-19 surge, near-'red line' healthcare capacity

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 8) — The World Health Organization is perturbed over the COVID-19 situation in the Philippines, raising alarm over the surge's effect on healthcare capacity.

"We are concerned about the situation in the Philippines," Dr. Takeshi Kasai, regonal director of WHO Western Pacific, said in a virtual media briefing on Wednesday. "We're concerned because the surge is really continuing and moving toward the so-called red line [when] the number of cases exceed or surpass the capacity of healthcare."

He underscored the importance of preventing the country's healthcare capacity from entering the danger zone that may jeopardize the safety and capabilities of medical frontliners to care for COVID-19 patients.

WHO noted that there are several factors for the ongoing spike in coronavirus infections that is not just occurring in the Philippines. Kasai cited the presence of variants of concern, noncompliance to minimum public health standards, increased mobility for nonessential gatherings, and movement of unsuspecting asymptomatic patients in their 20s to 40s as contributing factors to the surge.

He added that in other countries, it is vaccine optimism or complacency after vaccination that lead to spikes in cases. He admitted, however, that this could possibly not be applicable to the Philippines when vaccination rollout has not been widespread.

Kasai urged the Philippine government to improve its healthcare capacity by setting up temporary facilities to accommodate mild to moderate COVID-19 cases so intensive care units in hospitals can take care of critically-ill patients.

He also pressed the national government to strengthen contact tracing efforts to effectively pinpoint the source of infections.

Hospitals in the country are getting filled to the brim with COVID-19 cases, leaving several health facilities in Metro Manila and nearby provinces with no choice but to turn away patients needing emergency assistance. Some patients and their families resort to traveling to different provinces to get medical help.

This week, the government started relocating from hospitals admitted COVID-19 patients who are asymptomatic or only experiencing mild symptoms in a bid to decongest overwhelmed health facilities.

Additional tents and modular facilities will also be placed in some hospitals to serve as an extension to accommodate more patients.

The national government is also implementing triaging in all Metro Manila cities and municipality to prevent all those experiencing flu-like symptoms from rushing to hospitals. It will serve as the "midway" point where local health officials can assess if a person needs to go to a quarantine center or be brought to the hospital.

Appeal for more help from WHO

A lawmaker is appealing to the WHO to send more help to the Philippines by prioritizing the release of additional vaccine supplies through the global initiative COVAX.

"Ang panawagan natin sa World Health Organization is unahin tayo dito sa COVAX facility. Tayo ang bigyan ng authority na ma-turn over na 'yung mga vaccines so that we will be able to speed up the vaccine rollout," Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan said.

[Translation: Our call to the World Health Organization is to prioritize us in the COVAX facility. Give us the authority to turn over the vaccines to us so we can speed up the vaccine rollout.]

The Philippines has received 525,600 AstraZeneca doses through COVAX, a global initiative led by the World Health Organization, vaccine alliance Gavi, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations that seeks member countries' equitable access to coronavirus vaccines.

The WHO previously said expected delivery of over 900,000 AstraZeneca doses from COVAX, supposedly scheduled in late March, may be delayed further and reduced due to a supply shortage.

CNN Philippines correspondent Melissa Lopez contributed to this report.