By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINES said on Wednesday that its hospital use rate for COVID-19 remains significantly low and would not recommend any travel restrictions or mask mandate rules yet.

In the same media briefing given by Department of Health (DoH) Secretary Teodoro “Ted” J. Herbosa, the government also shed light on the need to tap the private sector in addressing the rising number of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases in young Filipinos. 

As Manila’s Southeast Asian neighbor, Singapore, faces another infection wave spurred by a group of variants called “FLiRT,” Mr. Herbosa said Filipinos already have “some level” of immunity against the virus with about 78 million of them having been vaccinated against COVID-19, he said.

“So, no requirement for border control, no requirement for mandatory mask, no requirement for additional vaccination,” Mr. Herbosa said. “But we are monitoring the cases.”

He said the DoH is closely watching developments in Singapore, which has logged increasing cases of KP.1 and KP.2 subvariants, which belong to a new family of subvariants nicknamed as “FLiRT.”

“So, we are watching ours,” Mr. Herbosa said.  In the Philippines, he said workers of a private hospital had tested positive for COVID-19.

But “our utilization [rate] for hospitals is still very low for COVID-19,” he said, citing the Health department’s epidemiology bureau.

Also, Mr. Herbosa said the DoH is eyeing to allow the private sector to sell antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, as the country struggles with rising cases of HIV.

“We are thinking whether we could have a program where we can allow the doctors or a guardian to allow the ARVs to be had,” he told reporters in mixed English and Filipino at Malacañang.

He noted that under the present setup, only the government, through the health-state insurer PhilHealth, can distribute ARVs.

Minors, meanwhile, need parental consent to access the HIV treatment drug, Mr. Herbosa said.

“You can’t buy it from the private sector. The other thing is, probably make it available in the private sector.”

The Health chief said people below 18 years old also need to get consent from their parents to access ARVS.

The Philippines has been recording 55 HIV cases a day mostly among youngsters, the highest in the world, he said.

There are about 59,000 people living with HIV (PLHIV) in the country, he noted.

“The ones that are being diagnosed are 15 years old, as young as 15, positive for HIV.”