PGH takes stricter health measures after South Africa variant detected

Sofia Tomacruz

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PGH suspends rotations of clerks and interns, and restricts walk-in patients, after infections increase and the South African variant is detected in a recent coronavirus case

The University Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) implemented stricter health measures after the South African variant of COVID-19 was found in a recent coronavirus case in the hospital.

PGH Spokesperson Dr Jonas del Rosario confirmed this to Rappler on Sunday, March 7, saying the hospital, one of the country’s COVID-19 designated health centers, had been informed by the Philippine Genome Center that a specimen it received from them contained the new variant. 

“The Philippine Genome Center informed PGH that they identified one specimen from us with the South African variant. The identity of the person has been anonymized,” Del Rosario said. 

The development, coupled with a recent increase in cases among health workers, prompted the hospital to implement strict health protocols, including the suspension of its clerks and interns’ rotations. 

“Clinical rotations in PGH of our clerks and interns have been suspended due to an increasing trend of COVID admissions in PGH, the increasing number of health care workers who got infected, and the looming threat of variants in the communities. We don’t want our medical students to be exposed unnecessarily,” Del Rosario said. 

Aside from this, Del Rosario said walk-in patients would not be accepted in its outpatient department, while initial consultations will be carried out virtually through its telemedicine program. Patients will only be accepted on appointment basis and can register through its online consultation request and appointment system

“Face-to-face encounters will be upon the recommendation of the doctor,” he added. 

Del Rosario said PGH’s hospital infection control unit had also identified, quarantined, and tested high risk exposures to recently infected staff and that further contract tracing for second and third generation contact continued. 

With the threat of variants and increased infections, Del Rosario said the hospital was also targeting to vaccinate all its healthcare workers in the next 10 days. PGH has so far counted 1,773 of its workers who received the Sinovac vaccine and is expecting to vaccinate an additional 4,000 vaccinees.

Why this matters

The recent measures taken by UP-PGH echo those done during the height of the pandemic, when infections, quickly increasing, threatened to strain the hospital’s resources. In the past few weeks since February 21, COVID-19 related admissions have increased form 68 to 105 as of Saturday, March 6. 

Earlier this week, the Department of Health reported 52 additional cases of the South African variant of COVID-19, bringing the total cases of this virus type in the country to 58. The new cases included 41 have indicative addresses in NCR, while 11 cases were still being verified to determine whether these are local cases or among returning overseas Filipinos.

Experts expressed worry about the South Africa variant as it carried a mutation called N501Y that appears to make it easier to spread. The variant may also have an impact on vaccine efficacy, though experts have said it was still too early to tell and that is was extremely unlikely the mutations would render vaccines useless. 

The increase in cases and presence of variants come as the Philippines launched its COVID-19 vaccine campaign on March 1. Philippine vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr said the government aims to vaccinate all 1.7 million health workers within March as experts fear a looming surge in cases with the presence of new variant. –

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.