It is “high time” to remove the emergency tag on COVID-19, infectious disease expert Dr. Rontgene Solante said Wednesday, noting the “sustained” low number of cases being reported.
Solante made the recommendation after the World Health Organization (WHO) said that it is working to declare an end to the COVID-19 outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern, even as doing so “doesn’t necessarily mean the pandemic itself will be over.”
“I think it’s high time that we remove the emergency label of COVID-19 because of the persistent and sustained low number of recorded cases,” he said during a Laging Handa briefing.
“And the fact that we have available vaccines and antiviral agents (lends to the removal of the emergency tag). These are interventions we can do in case there is an increase in cases, we can manage, and we can control it,” he added.
In March 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte signed a proclamation declaring a public health emergency over the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) is already prepared to sequence any suspected monkeypox samples in the country, its top official said.
PGC Executive Director Dr. Cynthia Saloma, in a Department of Health briefing, said they have already coordinated with the DOH’s Epidemiology Bureau to generate protocols in the event the monkeypox virus is detected in the Philippines.
“I want you to know that we are ready. The kits are also ready,” she said. “If there are samples given to us, we are ready to do and of course, to trade the results to the DOH Epidemiology Bureau,” Saloma said.
Though he believes that removing the emergency label on COVID-19 is a possibility, Solante said the government will wait for the World Health Organization’s decisions.
“But probably in the next administration, that’s something they will discuss so that we can move on and just treat this as an endemic infection,” Solante said.
Health Promotion and Communication Service Director Dr. Beverly Ho explained that it is difficult to determine if one has monkeypox, measles, or chickenpox.
People who show symptoms are thus advised to immediately isolate and consult with a physician through video call.
“People with monkeypox get lymphadenopathy or lymph nodes. Their rashes also start to develop in the mouth and face compared to
chickenpox which starts in the body. The appearance of the monkeypox rashes is almost the same or simultaneous in different parts of the body compared to chicken pox or measles which have different stages of rash development,” she added.
Monkeypox is a usually mild viral infection that is endemic in parts of west and central Africa. It spreads chiefly through close contact, and until the recent outbreak has only rarely been seen in other parts of the world.
The majority of the recent cases have been reported in Europe. There are currently more than 200 cases worldwide outside of countries where the virus is endemic.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Saturday there is no vaccine against monkeypox yet that has been approved or authorized by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration.
However, they are now discussing with the WHO where the country can procure monkeypox antivirals in case of an outbreak in the country.
The DOH announced that the country has adopted a “four-door” strategy in intensifying border control to prevent the entry of monkeypox virus into the country.
The department is also intensifying screening at the country’s borders and ensuring that surveillance systems are actively monitoring the monkeypox situation.