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Shorter quarantine for fully vaccinated health workers for ‘extreme’ circumstances

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health’s (DOH) shortened quarantine and isolation periods for fully vaccinated health workers — who contract COVID-19 or are close contacts of COVID-19 patients but are asymptomatic or only have mild symptoms — are discretionary on the part of hospital authorities and will be implemented only for “extreme” circumstances, Malacañang clarified on Tuesday.

In his press briefing, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, acting presidential spokesperson, said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) approved the DOH policy as an optional remedy for hospitals facing depletion of their manpower amid the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases in the country.

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The IATF earlier approved a shortened isolation and quarantine period for fully vaccinated health workers infected but are asymptomatic, mild, or in moderate condition as well as those exposed to COVID-19, to five days instead of the previous seven-day period.

Health-care workers have opposed the new policy, saying it puts their own and their patients’ health and safety at risk.

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Nograles, who is also IATF co-chair, said every hospital had its own infection prevention and control committee, which will be in charge of determining the need to shorten the quarantine and isolation periods.

Shorter incubation

“The health experts in those hospitals [who are part of the] committees will be the ones to assess if the exposed health workers are fit to be brought back in circulation. And again, it is only done in extreme circumstances, if the hospitals need [those personnel] so that their services will not suffer,” he explained.

DOH Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega, the country’s treatment czar and head of the One Hospital Command Center, said the IATF approval was based on similar policies adopted by health authorities in the United States and Europe that found out that the incubation period for the Omicron variant was shorter, which would lead to earlier recovery, especially for the vaccinated.

For the asymptomatic, he said, the viral load in the vaccinated persons becomes very low on the fifth day and they are no longer contagious or can transmit the virus.

Vega said the country’s healthcare workers were 93-percent fully vaccinated and were supposed to be protected from severe COVID-19 that could lead to hospitalization or death.

The undersecretary said the DOH will also propose to the IATF the similar shortening of isolation and quarantine periods for the general public to harmonize the country’s isolation and quarantine protocols with the vaccination coverage increase and Omicron becoming the dominant variant in the country.

Based on science

“The reason why we did it first for the healthcare workers is because it’s easy for them to be monitored by their infection prevention and control committees; besides, they are also fully vaccinated, 93 percent, even with a booster,” he said.

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Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire also defended the new policy of the government, saying it was based on scientific evidence.

“First of all, our government will never implement a policy that would put our patients and our healthcare workers at risk. Everything we implement was based on science and evidence,” Vergeire explained during a virtual press briefing.

“What we saw was the characteristic of the virus that allows it to be more transmissible but it also comes with [a] feature that allows for viral clearance to happen over a shorter period of time. That’s where our recommendation for shortened quarantine and isolation was coming from,” said pediatric infectious disease expert Dr. Anna Ong-Lim.

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TAGS: covid-19 vaccination, DoH, fully vaccinated health workers, medical frontliners
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