POSTSCRIPT / May 26, 2020 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Duterte, Duque can try China's vaccines

HAVING allowed the use of Filipinos in testing China-made vaccines for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), President Duterte and Health Secretary Francisco Duque themselves should lead the local volunteers for the clinical trials set to start late this year.

Duterte once famously quipped, “Dapat mauna si Meyor” (the Mayor should be first), referring to his entitlement to the first shot at something that is important and desirable.

Taking the lead in the clinical trials will reaffirm their close ties with Chinese leaders as shown in their earlier hesitation to ban travelers from mainland China even at the risk of exposing Filipinos to the coronavirus that broke out in Wuhan City last December.

The first COVID-19 fatality in the country was an infected Chinese visitor who died Feb. 1 in Manila. Duterte barred arrivals from the mainland the next day with Duque expressing concern that announcing the ban might offend Beijing.

Duterte’s taking the vaccine shots will dramatize his faith in China’s developing a vaccine and appreciation of its readiness to share with the Philippines despite the expected global demand for it. The pandemic has infected at least 5.5 million people so far.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for COVID-19 has approved local collaboration in clinical trials for vaccines developed by the Adimmune Corp. and Academia Sinica, both based in Taiwan; the Chinese Academy of Science–Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health, and SinoPharm–Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and Beijing Institute, based in China.

Its Resolution No. 35 dated May 22 said: “The collaborating organizations will be provided with (a) the World Health Organization requirements for COVID-19 vaccine target product profiles, (b) pre-qualification process for WHO approvals, and (c) the Philippine Food and Drug Administration updated guidelines on clinical trials.”

The Department of Science and Technology plans to establish research centers, such as a Virology Institute in New Clark City, and reactivate the Pharmaceutical Development Unit at DOST-Industrial Technology Development Institute as a Tuklas Lunas Center for Pharmaceuticals Development.

In the search for a COVID-19 cure, the health department has set aside P18 million for the clinical trials of the Japanese anti-influenza drug Avigan as a potential treatment. Some 80 to 100 patients are to undergo the clinical research.

The President said at least 24 hospitals will participate in the “Solidarity Trials” initiated by the WHO to search for a treatment. A dozen hospitals have been recruiting participants.

Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the National Task Force on COVID-19 response, reported Wednesday that measures to counter its spread are paying off as shown by latest statistics after two months of lockdown.

He said that the number of reported infections lately has been eight percent lower than those between March and April, with 13 out of every 100 cases turning out to be positive.

He added: “Our death rates also continue to decrease. In April, we recorded 50 patients who died in one day. But in May, the double-digit death rates were reduced to a single digit. We are targeting zero deaths per day.”

Eight of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been registering zero new deaths. Only Indonesia (+21 deaths) and the Philippines (+5) still have new fatalities as of 8 a.m. yesterday. Worldwide, 2,826 new deaths were reported.

On recoveries, Galvez said: “The highest number of patients recovered on May 13 was 145 in one day. To address the needs of patients, as of May 20, we have 1,500 referral and treatment hospitals with 10,572 beds.”

 New plan gives buses EDSA inner lanes

WE are bracing ourselves for another EDSA traffic experiment starting Monday, or whenever the Metro Manila lockdown is shifted to the more relaxed Regular Community Quarantine that will see more commuters out in the streets.

In the new scheme proposed by Eduardo H. Yap, national affairs committee chair of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, the yellow bus lanes now at curbside will be transferred to the innermost lanes of EDSA beside the MRT-3 line.

Yap said the plan, endorsed by Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, can be implemented when new station platforms are ready and buses are fitted with left-sided doors. At-grade crosswalks will suffice pending the building of overhead bridges for passengers to cross EDSA from the sidewalk to the stations.

Buses need an exclusive busway to run unimpeded even during peak hours, Yap said. Two lanes are needed at the station area, the inner lane for local service with more stops, and the adjacent outer lane for express buses. Between stations, one lane should be enough.

A commuter group, meanwhile, warned that the latest decision by the Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board cutting bus routes from 96 to 29 might further strain the overburdened public transport system while benefiting only 10 percent of commuters.

The Pilipino Advocates for Safety and Development-Commuter Consumer (PASADA-CC) asked President Duterte to look into the board’s plan to grant special permits to already enfranchised bus operators for the use of EDSA.

Lawyer Argee Guevarra, president and co-convenor of PASADA-CC, said that with only 4,200 buses plying EDSA and other routes, the normally 1.6 million commuters will need alternative modes of transportation.

He also questioned the issuing of special permits for EDSA when the LTFRB itself has already given franchises to bus operators. This might strengthen perceptions of reported corruption in the board, Guevarra warned.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 26, 2020)

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