The country needs a Health secretary

When Malacañang announced on Friday that President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. tested positive for Covid-19 in an antigen test, the people were reminded that the virus is still very much around and everybody, including vaccinated and boosted individuals, is still at risk of contracting the disease.

Despite rising Covid-19 infections, the Department of Health on Tuesday said the whole country remains at low-risk case classification. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire also said that the number of severe and critical admissions at the national level remain at less than 1,000 since mid-March 2022 and “currently on a plateau.” She said health-care utilization remains low in most areas and severe and critical cases are at less than 1.5 percent among total hospital admissions nationally (Read, “PHL remains at Covid low-risk case classification–DOH,” in the BusinessMirror, July 12, 2022).

From the Associated Press: “The quickly changing coronavirus has spawned yet another super contagious Omicron mutant that’s worrying scientists as it gains ground in India and pops up in numerous other countries, including the United States. Scientists say the variant—called BA.2.75—may be able to spread rapidly and get around immunity from vaccines and previous infection. It’s unclear whether it could cause more serious disease than other Omicron variants, including the globally prominent BA.5.”

“The latest mutant has been spotted in several states in India, and appears to be spreading faster than other variants there,” said Lipi Thukral, a scientist at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi. It’s also been detected in about 10 other countries, including Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada. Three cases were recently identified in the US.

Asked by the BusinessMirror if the country will again implement strict border control following the emergence of a new Omicron subvariant, Vergeire said the country’s borders “cannot remain closed forever.” She added: “The only thing that we are looking into and we should make sure of is that we remain at low-risk level. The severe and critical cases should be at minimum level and few will be hospitalized.”

President Marcos has pledged not to impose wide-scale lockdowns that hurt the economy. But as the virus continues to evolve and become more contagious, we have to accept the fact that we are now living with a higher level of risk. We are all tired of the pandemic and we would like to return to our pre-pandemic lives. But Covid remains a threat, and that’s the reality we need to deal with. We need to stay safe and not let our guard down.

In a press briefing last week, the President announced the plans of Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte to implement full face-to-face classes by November. He said they will be encouraging booster vaccination, especially among the youth, to combat the increasing threat of less harmful, yet more contagious Omicron variants. On Tuesday, the Department of Health gave the green light on the booster shots for ages 12 to 17 years old.

Mr. Marcos plans to ramp up vaccinations and fix “shortcomings” in the country’s pandemic response. Although the President has vast powers, he must not do the “fixing” by himself. We are still in the middle of a global health crisis, and there’s a pressing need for him to name his alter ego to take care of the country’s health problems. We need a Health secretary who can focus on keeping people safe not only from Covid but also from other medical ailments.


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