MANILA – The country's fight against the coronavirus pandemic is not over, a health official said Wednesday, amid reports that hospitals are “overwhelmed and overrun” with Covid patients following a rise in infections.

“'Wag naman po natin sabihing natalo na tayo. Paano naman po iyong mga kababayan nating umaasa sa atin? (Let’s not say we already lost. How about our fellowmen who depend on us?)," Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in an online media forum.

“Patuloy pa rin po ang trabaho ng gobyerno at Kagawaran ng Kalusugan para po patuloy natin maibigay ang mga pangagailangang medikal at pangkalusugang ng ating mga kababayan (The government and the DOH continue to work to provide for the medical and health needs of our fellowmen)," she added.

Vergeire was reacting to a statement made by Philippine Hospital Association president Dr. Jaime Almora, who said in a television interview that the country already lost the battle against the coronavirus.

Almora noted that hospitals have depleted and overworked manpower as many medical staff got infected with and died from Covid-19.

With infected front line healthcare workers in isolation, the patient load has doubled for those left standing in hospitals.

This, he said, lead to lack of capability of hospitals to care for patients which is a bigger problem than hospital capacity, since there are hospital beds available.

Latest DOH data as of March 30 show that 59 percent of 1,900 intensive care unit beds, 46 percent of 13,500 isolation beds, and 45 percent of 6,000 ward beds dedicated to patients with Covid-19 are utilized.

About 39 percent of 2,000 ventilators are also utilized by Covid patients.

Meantime, in a Laging Handa briefing, National Task Force Against Covid-19 medical adviser Dr. Ted Herbosa said hospitals are still in operation and saving lives.

"Kasi masasabi pong talo na iyan kung nagsara na iyong ospital, ‘di ba. So far wala pa akong nadidinig na ospital (You can say we've lost if the hospital is already closed down, right? So far, I haven't heard any hospital that stopped operating)," he said. "Habang hindi nagsasara iyang mga ospital na iyan, may laban pa tayo at makaka-save pa rin tayo ng mga buhay (While the hospitals are still open, we can still fight and we can still save more lives)."

In these trying times, Herbosa said people should hear more about the heroism of the medical front-liners.

"All the doctors and nurses are doing heroic things, trying to take care of more patients that they can handle, to me iyan ang heroism na dapat nating ipagsabi, hindi iyong talo na (that heroism should be told to everyone, not about losing)," he added.

Hospitals being decongested

Vergeire said healthcare workers infected with Covid-19 are currently admitted in hospitals.

“Most of them have mild and asymptomatic conditions but we still want that they still be cared for by the institution, so we already have hotels for quarantine facilities, so we can transfer them there. All these things are happening right now to decongest hospitals,” she added.

The so-called mega quarantine facilities, which were previously closed due to the decrease in number cases, have been reactivated.

“The Rizal Memorial Coliseum opened on second week of March, 97 beds; Ninoy Aquino Stadium kakabukas lang po (just opened); 127 beds; Quezon Institute will be opened on Monday, it has 112 beds,” she said.

“We are going to re-strategize the use of these quarantine facilities for hospitals to use them as step down care facilities, so ibig sabihin 'yung medyo gumagaling na at pwede na lamang pong bantayan sa mga ganitong facilities ay gagawin natin para ma-decongest ang hospitals (this means those already recovering would be placed in these facilities to decongest our hospitals),” she added.

The department has been looking for ways to provide augmentation to hospitals and healthcare facilities, recognizing that some of them have depleted human resources as their workers get infected with Covid-19 while others take a leave or resign.

“Last July and August [2020] what we did, we asked help from other regions which were not so much affected, and aside from that mayroong ding hiring na ginawa (additional healthcare workers were hired)," Vergeire said during an online media forum on March 22.

Call for collective effort

Vergeire urged hospitals – both public and private – and other sectors to help in the country’s fight against the disease.

“Nagawa na po natin ito dati nung July and August kaya po natin ito magawa uli basta magtulungan tayong lahat (We did this last July and August [2020] we can do this again if we help each other),” she said.

The surge in number of coronavirus cases has surpassed the peak recorded in August last year, with National Capital Region at "high risk" and five other regions -- Central Luzon, Cagayan Valley, Region 4-A (Calabarzon), Western Visayas and Caraga -- at "moderate risk" based on the speed of the increase and number of population affected.

As the number of cases rise, Vergeire called on authorities not to add to the public's fears.

“Ituro natin sila sa tamang direksyon para alam nila ang gagawin nila kung sila ay magkaka-symptoms o kailangan manatili muna sa bahay (Let’s point the public to the right direction so they know what to do if they get symptoms or if they need to stay at home),” she said. (PNA)