The number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 has reached 8,212 as 254 new cases were confirmed Wednesday. Total fatalities as a result of the disease climbed to 558 as 28 new deaths were reported. On the other hand, 1,023 people have recovered from the disease, 48 of them logged on Wednesday.
Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said the Philippines will likely miss its target of at least 8,000 COVID-19 tests a day by April 30 but said the goal will be met “in the coming days.”
The failure to meet the target of mass testing was the result of a slowdown in the processing of tests, she said.
She cited the case at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), where manpower has been reduced after some of its staff got infected with COVID-19.
She said the Department of Health intends to increase its coronavirus testing capacity by April 30 as several areas are set to shift to a less strict community quarantine by May 1.
She said government-accredited laboratories have a testing capacity of 6,320 but for the last three days, actual tests averaged 4,443 a day.
The Philippines currently has 19 accredited COVID-19 testing centers.
Meanwhile, Senator Richard J. Gordon proposed the creation of an independent and competent Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
In filing Senate Bill No. 1440, or the Philippine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Act (Philippine CDC Act), Gordon pointed out that the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the outbreaks of different infectious diseases highlight the lack of preparedness and capability of the country’s public health units to effectively prevent and control possible epidemics of communicable diseases.
“With almost 8,000 confirmed cases and a death toll of more than 500, in our country alone, this ongoing pandemic is a dire reminder that communicable and infectious diseases and public health threats respect no borders,” Gordon said.
Under SBN 1440, the proposed national center for disease control and prevention, which will be attached to the Department of Health for policy and program coordination, will be the country’s principal health protection agency tasked to prevent and manage the spread of diseases and other health threats originating domestically and internationally.
With sufficient funding and equipped with bio-safety level 2-4 laboratories, the CDC will be the country’s epidemiology and surveillance body, which will develop and maintain a network of reference and specialized laboratories for pathogen detection, disease surveillance and outbreak response and will strengthen diagnostic capacity for laboratory surveillance of infectious diseases.
The Justice department, meanwhile, is expediting the processing of parole and probation to decongest prisons, which can be a hotbed for COVID-19 infections, a Palace spokesman said.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said the Department of the Interior and Local Government has also set up isolation areas for prisoners who are infected.
The Bureau of Corrections announced Tuesday that two female inmates from the Correctional Institution for Women have died from COVID-19.
The New Bilibid Prison recorded its first death from COVID-19 last week, a prisoner who was admitted to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.
But human rights advocates on Wednesday claimed there were more deaths of inmates that have gone unreported.
In a statement, the Human Rights Watch expressed concerns that COVID-19 could spread "more quickly and widely" inside detention facilities, saying "the government has not fully reported prison deaths."
He urged jail authorities to investigate prison deaths and take urgent measures to better protect prisoners, including the reduction of prison populations to allow for social distancing and other preventive measures.
According to the group, they were able to interview five inmates on separate occasions who said since March 25, there were seven inmates who died at the Quezon City jail and one in the Cavite Provincial Jail.
It, however, said it could not determine whether the deaths were COVID-19 related because of the absence of testing in the facilities and the government’s failure to report them.
“Unreported deaths of inmates show the urgent need for the Duterte government to be transparent about the spread of COVID-19 inside the country’s overcrowded prisons,” Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said.
“The government should get serious about the terrible situation in its prisons and jails and accurately report on prison deaths and illness," he added.
Also on Wednesday, Senator Christopher Go demanded that the concerned agencies investigate hospitals that refuse to administer emergency care to patients during the COVID-19 outbreak.
He said accepting patients into hospitals is of paramount importance, especially given the COVID-19 crisis.
He echoed the President’s remarks that hospitals are the sanctuary of the sick and that they should not choose which patient to accept based on the ailment.
Go, chairman of the Senate health committee, cited a recent report about a woman in Caloocan City who died during childbirth after being turned away by six hospitals citing full capacity while another facility allegedly asked for a deposit before admission.
He said these hospitals said they lacked available space for in-patients and were short on blood supply.
Under the Anti-Hospital Deposit Law, it is unlawful for a hospital or clinic to refuse patients and administer medical treatment.
He added that the law states that a transfer to another hospital or facility can only be done after necessary emergency treatment has been administered to the patient and that the patient is already in a table condition.
Meanwhile, National Center for Mental Health Director Roland Cortez said they have decided to convert a hospital pavilion to an isolation facility to accommodate their COVID-19 patients.
In a virtual press conference, Cortez said the NCMH’s Pavillion 7 has been turned into a quarantine facility where 17 psychiatric patients were placed for close monitoring. One of them has already recovered.
He said the NCMH still has a sizeable number of suspects or those patients being observed with mild and severe signs, but are yet to be swabbed. He said 39 in-patients are considered suspects for COVID-19. At present, he said the mental hospital has 3,200 in-patients.
The NCMH director also said 11 of their personnel who were among the 70 who acquired the novel coronavirus recovered from the disease. He said 26 others are conspired suspects.