THE HEALTH department is in talks with an Austrian company for orders of about 200 more intensive care unit (ICU) beds as the country prepares for the reopening of the economy, according to the Presidential Palace.

Presidential spokesman Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr. issued the statement on Tuesday after the Philippines reportedly missed its chance to secure hundreds of hospital beds last year, which supposedly resulted in a shouting match during a recent emergency Cabinet meeting.

“There was no shouting match because what the Philippines really needs now are ICU beds,” he told a televised news briefing in Filipino.

Mr. Roque said the government had not considered the Austrian company’s original offer because the deal was only for 15 ICU beds. He added that the foreign company was expected to submit its new proposal this week.

He said the company had identified the hospitals that would get the ICU beds for coronavirus patients.

He noted that the economy would only reopen if the country had enough beds for coronavirus patients.

The palace official earlier said the government had intended to put up more ICU beds for coronavirus patients with severe symptoms so quarantines could be relaxed by next month. The state wanted to add 200 more ICU beds on top of 176 beds pledged by hospitals in Metro Manila.

“If the country’s doesn’t run out of ICU beds and it’s obvious now that we won’t run out of isolation beds and temporary treatment and monitoring facilities, there is a reason to open up the economy,” Mr. Roque said in Filipino.

It’s cheaper to set up more ICU beds rather than lock the economy down, he said, citing government economic managers.

Mr. Roque said the government expects the use rate of ICU beds in Metro Manila to fall to 60% from 72% as of April 26.

Meanwhile, two more hospitals were given a compassionate special permit to use the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin as a treatment for coronavirus, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said.  

There were now five facilities allowed to use the drug against the COVID-19 virus under a special permit, FDA Director-General Rolando Enrique D. Domingo said in a mobile phone message.

A compassionate special permit is given in cases when doctors can’t give a patient anything else for treatment, he told the ABS-CBN News Channel. Ivermectin is being used by the hospitals mainly for patients with moderate symptoms, he added.

Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña last week said the Philippines would hold trials to determine whether ivermectin could be used to treat the coronavirus.

The Department of Health and FDA earlier said there was no evidence that ivermectin could cut deaths among patients with mild to severe COVID-19 cases.

Ivermectin did not also significantly reduce the duration of hospitalization based on some studies, they said. Health authorities also said the rate of hospitalization discharge “did not differ significantly” between those that were given the drug and the placebo group.

There was also no evidence that ivermectin could prevent coronavirus infections, they said, citing the World Health Organization.

The agencies said ivermectin products registered in the country were for veterinary use and were only allowed to treat animals suffering from parasites and heartworm.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte has ordered the FDA to lead the government’s campaign against the illegal sale of the veterinary drug ivermectin, which is being repackaged in the Philippines as a treatment against the coronavirus, Mr. Roque said last week. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Vann Marlo M. Villegas