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September 18, 2020

No More Lockdowns: Group Launches #FlattenTheFear Campaign; 77 Percent Of Filipinos Already Want To Travel Domestically

No More Lockdowns: Group Launches #FlattenTheFear Campaign; 77 Percent Of Filipinos Already Want To Travel Domestically

A group of doctors and concerned citizens on Thursday, Sept. 17, pressed for the immediate lifting of lockdowns imposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus  disease 2019 or COVID-19 nationwide.

The 5,000 members of the Concerned Doctors and Citizens of the Philippines (CDC-PH) led by former health secretary Jaime Galvez-Tan urged President Duterte to adopt a national protocol for the prophylaxis or prevention and early treatment of COVID-19 as an alternative to community quarantines.

Prophylaxis means preventive healthcare or measures taken for disease prevention.

CDC-PH launched #FlattenTheFear campaign during a press conference in Pasig City where its members expressed opposition to the enforcement of more lockdowns and pushed for the country’s return to normal.

The doctors questioned the retention of a general quarantine that prohibits even those below 19 years old from going out of their homes, and which has derailed formal education and paralyzed many people’s lives and the economy.

The CDC-PH said there are now studies and research that allow the scientific and medical community to understand the virus better, allowing actions to control and manage it unlike in previous months.

“For instance, various researches have confirmed that at least 93 percent of COVID deaths are people 55 years or older,” the CDC-PH said. “These studies have also indicated that most of the deaths have comorbidities. These two groups of people constitute COVID high-risk groups.”

The CDC-PH said that treatment priority should focus on the vulnerable groups.

“As we have applied the protocol, we have seen an almost 100 percent success rate in treatment. Additionally, since we utilize homecare quarantine treatment to some of our patients, there was also a marked decrease in infection rates as well as easing the burden on the nation’s frontliners and coffers. There was no need for hospital care, too,” the group noted.

“We propose to the President that the Philippines adopt a national protocol for the prophylaxis and early treatment of COVID-19 that aims to reduce hospitalizations and prevent loss of lives,” the CDC-PH added in a unity statement. “With this solution in mind, we appeal to the President to lift all lockdowns to allow our people to begin to rebuild their lives.”

The group said it is “more than willing to sit down” with the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to go over its suggested protocol and its administration, the details of which could then be immediately cascaded down to the barangay units via their primary healthcare workers.

“Once these measures are adopted, there will no longer be a need to choose between saving the economy and saving precious Filipino lives,” the group pointed out.

The government has been trying to flatten the COVID curve, which refers to community isolation measures that keep the daily number of disease cases at a manageable level for medical providers.

Hydroxychloroquine

The doctors also disclosed they were building a directory of physicians who will prescribe hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to people who can take it as a prophylactic against COVID-19.

Dr. Edwin Bien said HCQ could be given as prophylaxis to prevent COVID-19 infection. He vowed that HCQ is safe if given in correct dosage upon consultation with doctors.

Due to safety concerns, the World Health Organization (WHO) has suspended the clinical trials for HCQ as a possible treatment for COVID-19. The Philippine government generally follows WHO advice on the pandemic response.

In June, the US Food and Drug Administration also stopped the use of HCQ for COVID emergency treatment due to the risks of heart rhythm problems. The FDA, however, said the drug could still be used for malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

“There were concerns that it can cause heart abnormality, but I have been using and prescribing this drug to my patients and we are doing fine,” Bien said while citing studies showing that the adverse effects were due to over dosage.

He said other doctors presented data indicating a low death rate among COVID patients from countries with access to HCQ.  Separate studies have also shown full benefit with early intervention or when treatment is given in the first five days of the infection. Hospitalization is lower for those who were treated early.

Geriatric doctor Homer Lim said even without HCQ, early intervention can help reduce the number of people being hospitalized due to moderate and severe COVID infection.

Lim said Vitamins D and C can boost the immune system and thus prevent replication of the coronavirus when it enters the body.

“(Those with) lower Vitamin D level have a higher chance of testing positive for COVID and developing severe or critical infection,” he explained.

Vitamin D is derived from sunlight, foods such as salmon, mackerel and mushrooms as well as food supplements.

Francis Abraham, a concerned citizen who acts as one of the group’s representatives, said they are offering a doable and rational action plan against COVID-19 in the country.

“We want to help with clear actionable plans,” Abraham said. “COVID-19 is not a death sentence. We will win the fight if we treat the patients early and prevent the deaths. It’s very simple… quarantine the sick, not the healthy.”

Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez, who was invited as a guest and reactor to the group’s congress via Zoom conference, expressed his support for the proposed action plan, saying that the government was working on managing the risks arising from COVID-19.

“What we don’t want to do is risk avoidance. What we need to do is risk management,” Lopez said.

He stressed the government was open to a realistic plan of action “that will allow us to manage some of the risks.”

Lopez said that the government was already taking the initial steps to reopening the economy.

“As we are reopening, we are not reopening recklessly,” Lopez assured the public.

According to the physicians, the medical protocols they are proposing could be easily scaled up on a national level, besides being more cost-effective. If adopted, the protocols will allow the national government to allocate its limited resources to disease prevention and early treatment of flu-like illnesses, particularly among the vulnerable groups.

The group also suggests conducting training for the country’s primary care doctors so the protocols can be implemented all the way down to the barangay level, eliminating the need for travel and work restrictions.

“This will enable businesses to reopen and our markets to move again, thus saving jobs and preventing the further deterioration of our economy,” the group said.

On the age vulnerability, the group cited research showing zero deaths among those under 19 years old as well as zero cases of child-to-elderly transmission. This means face-to-face education can resume, the group added.

But people aged 18 and younger have died of COVID in several countries including the United Kingdom and the United States. As of Aug. 11, the US had recorded 90 children dying of COVID. In the Philippines, the Department of Health has reported that at least two infants including a 23-year-old have died of COVID-19.

Still, CDC-PH said scrapping online education for this school year would save parents from buying expensive electronic equipment while providing relief to the environment with the reduction of plastic wastes coming from unnecessary face shields and protective tents.

“Businesses would be able to reopen immediately, and our people can get back to work and revive the economy. The Philippines would reopen its doors to international and local tourism. Virtually overnight, we would see a recovery in the stock market, and foreign investment could once again come pouring in. We can retain our status as the darling of investors in this part of the globe,” the group said.

The group says the country can adopt the “HOPE” strategy:  Hospitalize less; Open up all businesses; Prevent illness. Don’t wait to cure it; and Educate all primary care physicians and the people on disease prevention.

This can be achieved by implementing these two protocols:

1) Prevent early; treat early; and 2) quarantine the sick, not the healthy.

“Once these measures are adopted, Mr. President, we will truly begin to heal as one nation,” the group said.

Quarantine fatigue

After six months of lockdowns, a vast majority of the country’s 110 million population want to travel to domestic tourist spots and take a respite from strict government restrictions, Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat told lawmakers on Thursday.

“Based on our survey, 77 percent of Filipinos still want to travel even during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said during a hearing of the appropriations committee of the House of Representatives, where she defended the Department of Tourism’s P3.5-billion budget for 2021.

Seventy-seven percent is equivalent to about 80 million of the 110 million population.

Puyat told lawmakers that hotel and resort owners have been asking for the establishment of an “isolation center” and the putting up of real time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction or swab testing centers in their business establishments.

“They want the swab tests done fast and with immediate result, so they can screen those who are infected. Also, they want the isolation centers where they can put those who will suddenly have fevers right away,” Puyat said.

“All of our tourist destinations of course want to open, but they are afraid and are very cautious. This is why we are giving all of them the support we have like these safety and health protocols,” Puyat added.

So far, tourism has partially resumed in Boracay and Baguio City.

Puyat believes the country will recover faster through domestic tourism as the pandemic has also restricted international travel.

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