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HCWs’ Shortened Quarantine, Isolation Not Absolute – Duque

HCWs’ Shortened Quarantine, Isolation Not Absolute – Duque
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III

The shortened period for the quarantine and isolation of health care workers (HCWs) is “not absolute” or applicable to all hospitals, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Wednesday, Jan. 12.

Duque said the actual quarantine/isolation period to be followed depends on the “situation on the ground,” referring to the applicability of the new guidelines for shortened quarantine and isolation of medical frontliners to specific hospitals.

“It’s discretionary to hospital infection prevention control committee or the provincial health office because they know the situation on the ground,” he told the “Kapihan sa Manila Bay” media forum.

Duque added that the new protocols of the Department of Health (DOH) are “not automatic” and will depend on the hospitals if they want to adopt them.

Under DOH Circular No. 2022-002, the duration of quarantine and isolation period for HCWs who got infected with COVID-19 or got exposed to positive individuals had been shortened.

The circular stated that the quarantine period for fully vaccinated frontliners can be waived from the usual seven days while the isolation period for fully inoculated is shorted from 10 days to seven days.

The new protocols were strongly opposed by the Filipino Nurses United and the Alliance of Health Workers, which warned that it could lead to more frontliners getting infected with COVID.

For its part, the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines Inc. had announced it would not follow the guidelines because this could lead to the resignation of their HCWs.

Additional paid leaves

On Wednesday, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) reported that workers infected with COVID-19 or exposed to the virus may avail of additional paid leaves apart from their sick leave.

Labor Undersecretary Benjo Benavidez said the DOLE is coming out with a labor advisory encouraging employers to extend quarantine or isolation leaves to workers who tested positive or got exposed to an infected patient.

Benavidez, however, clarified that the advisory only encourages employers to provide quarantine and isolation leave as some establishments are already doing so at this time.

In the absence of the law, the DOLE cannot mandate the granting of isolation and quarantine leaves for COVID-positive workers or those who have been exposed to the infection, he said.

“We are mindful of the financial standing of many micro-enterprises and this is the reason why we are very careful with the use of the word mandatory,” he said.

“We are issuing the advisory for big companies which have many employees. The bigger number of workers, the greater likelihood of them getting infected,” he added.

Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), the country’s largest labor group, welcomed the granting of paid quarantine and isolation leave benefits.

“The isolation and quarantine leave benefit that the DOLE is about to promulgate will help workers and businesses cope, keep our overall economy afloat despite the debilitating impact of recurring attacks of COVID-19 disease variants,” TUCP said in a statement.

TUCP noted that a paid isolation and quarantine leave benefit will encourage employees to faithfully undergo isolation and quarantine at the first instance of the symptoms to protect themselves.

At the same briefing, Benavidez also reminded workers who tested positive for COVID-19 to avail themselves of their mandated benefits from the Employees Compensation Commission (ECC) and the Social Security System (SSS).

Benavidez said only a few workers have tapped the benefits being provided by SSS and ECC for COVID-positive workers. – With Mayen Jaymalin