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Gov't Defends Shortened Quarantine For Fully Vaccinated Individuals

Gov't Defends Shortened Quarantine For Fully Vaccinated Individuals
A health worker checks on a patient at a quarantine facility in San Juan City on Jan. 14, 2021. Photo by Russel Palma, The Philippine STAR

Malacañang on Friday, Jan. 14, defended the government’s decision to shorten the quarantine and isolation periods for fully vaccinated individuals.

“This was vetted by our health experts,” said presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles, who co-chairs the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases or IATF.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, who joined the Palace media briefing, echoed this position, explaining that shortening the quarantine period for health workers positive for COVID-19 and their asymptomatic close contacts is based on scientific studies.

She noted that while those who questioned the decision cited an article to support their claim, there are more articles showing that the virus load of those sick with the Omicron variant goes down in about six days—and, because the virus load is lesser, it will also lessen the possibility of them infecting others.

“So that is the major basis of our policy,” she said, stressed that government’s changes in isolation and quarantine protocols are “consistent with global practices.”

Under the Department Memorandum No. 2022-0013 signed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, fully vaccinated asymptomatic close contacts of suspect, probable or confirmed cases shall quarantine for at least five days from the last exposure.

Asymptomatic close contacts who are partially vaccinated or unvaccinated shall quarantine for at least 14 days from the last exposure.

For confirmed cases who are asymptomatic, those who are fully vaccinated shall isolate for at least seven days from sample collection date, while those partially vaccinated or unvaccinated must isolate for at least 10 days.

Fully vaccinated individuals who exhibit mild symptoms shall isolate for at least seven days from the onset of signs and symptoms if they are fully vaccinated and at least 10 days for those who are partially vaccinated or unvaccinated.

Those who exhibit moderate symptoms, regardless of vaccination status, shall be isolated for at least 10 days.

Those with severe and critical symptoms, as well as symptomatic immunocompromised confirmed cases shall be isolated for at least 21 days.

The new guidelines also allow for shorter isolation period for healthcare workers with booster shots who are asymptomatic or exhibiting only mild symptoms.

Vergeire clarified that local executives still have the authority to assess whether or not the individuals should remain isolated.

“For example, the persons are still showing symptoms on those numbers of days that we require – seven days – (if) that’s the assessment of the doctor in the local government, then we ex-tend a little more the isolation,” Vergeire pointed out.

We said in our policy, it’s the minimum of days. So maybe seven to 10 days, depending on the symptoms of the person, and the situation in the area. What we are saying is for uniformity and as a general principle, we are shortening the duration of isolation,” she added.

Vergeire also reminded the public that despite the shorter period of isolation, they still need to continue to practice minimum public health standards, including the proper wearing of face masks.

Aside from the shortened quarantine period, the IATF also allowed quarantine hotels to be used as isolation facilities for those who will test positive for COVID-19.

“The (IATF) approved the recommendation of the Department of Tourism to use quarantine hotels as isolation facilities subject to specific protocols by the Bureau of Quarantine, Department of Health,” Nograles said.

Returning overseas Filipinos (ROF) and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been complaining about the long process in transferring individuals from a quarantine area to an isolation area.

Nograles said the same hotel or building could now function as both a quarantine area and an isolation facility, thus eliminating the need for an ROF or OFW to be transferring from one building to another.

Meanwhile, the government is reinforcing burdened health facilities all over the country by sending additional medical personnel to sustain their operations against COVID-19.

These reinforcements, according to National Task Force against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr., include members of the armed forces, police, jail management and coast guard.

The reinforcing medical personnel, he said, should be able to help run or man hospitals that lack health care workers.

“This is the big challenge that we have right now because even the health workers are being hit by the virus. Let us not panic. The IATF, mayors and hospital directors are doing everything to sustain the health care treatment,” Galvez said. – With Jose Rodel Clapano, Jen Ponsaran