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DOH makes final push to extend expiring pandemic calamity state

The Department of Health (DOH) has asked the Office of the President (OP) to further extend the state of calamity in the Philippines due to COVID-19, which is set to expire on Dec. 31, DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said Tuesday.

“We already submitted our memo to the President, requesting the extension of the state of calamity in consideration of the fact that the CDC bill was not enacted on time,” she said, referring to the proposed measure creating the country’ Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

She said they were just waiting for an official response from the Office of the President.

Earlier this year, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. extended the state of calamity due to COVID-19 to the end of the year upon a recommendation from the National Disaster Risk-Reduction and Management Council.

Former President Rodrigo Duterte placed the country under a state of calamity until Sept. 12, 2022.

Duterte said the state of calamity throughout the country was needed “in order for the national government and the local government units to continuously deliver COVID-19-related interventions such as but not limited to COVID-19 vaccination program; use appropriate funds… in their disaster preparedness, and response efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19; monitor and control prices of basic necessities and prime commodities; and provide basic services to the affected population.”

Meanwhile, the DOH said the detection of the Omicron subvariant BF.7 in the Philippines calls for caution but was not not a cause for concern.

The Philippines has detected four cases of BF.7, which is reportedly driving COVID-19 cases up in China.

The BF.7, a sublineage of the BA.5, is believed to be more transmissible and better at evading immunity, Vergeire said.

But currently available evidence for BF.7 does not suggest any differences in disease severity and clinical manifestations compared to the original omicron variant, she added.

Vergeire said she does not see a China-like surge happening to the Philippines.

She said Filipinos always err on the side of caution.

China abruptly lifted many of its harsh COVID-19 restrictions after nationwide protests.

Hospitals and crematoriums across China have been overflowing with COVID-19 patients and victims, while the National Health Commission on Sunday announced it would stop publishing daily nationwide infection and death statistics.

That decision followed concerns that the country’s wave of infections is not being accurately reflected in official statistics.

Beijing has admitted the scale of the outbreak has become “impossible” to track following the end of mandatory mass testing.

Also on Tuesday, the DOH said the Food and Drug Administration has issued emergency use authorization (EUA) for the bivalent vaccines of Moderna and Pfizer.

Vergeire said the EUA for the bivalent vaccines of Moderna and Pfizer had been released last week.

She said the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC), which advises the DOH regarding COVID-19 vaccines, has also given its approval.

The DOH said it aims to have bivalent vaccines available by the first quarter of 2023.

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