Airborne transmission of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) is only limited to specific closed settings such as restaurants and hospitals, the Department of Health (DoH) said on Saturday, agreeing with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) earlier acknowledgment that the virus might be spread in the air under certain conditions.

A COVID-19 testing associate dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) watches a man cough into his arm as part of a self-administered test at a testing center at Lincoln Park amid the coronavirus pandemic on July 07, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP

The statement came after the WHO recently said airborne transmission of Covid-19 is “possible” in closed spaces and inadequate ventilation, such as restaurants, nightclubs, places of worship and workplaces where people might be singing or talking, aside from aerosol transmission in hospitals.

“In these outbreaks, aerosol transmission, particularly in these indoor locations where there are crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces where infected persons spend long periods of time with others, cannot be ruled out,” the WHO said.

According to Philippine Health Undersecretary and spokesman Maria Rosario Vergeire, they have recognized the transmission of the virus in hospitals, citing many aerosol-induced procedures.

“Kaya nga po naka-complete PPE (personal protective equipment)  ang ating mga health workers. (That is why our health workers wear complete PPE)” Vergeire said during her regular segment in the Laging Handa public briefing aired on PTV-4.

She added that with the  airborne transmission possible in closed settings, they have recommended that restaurants and other sectors should only be confined to open-air settings.

“Kaya nga po tayo nagkaroon ng rekomendasyon  na sana kung magkakaroon ng pagbubukas ng sektor tulad ng restaurants, it should be in open air para po hindi tayo nagkakaroon ng ganitong instances (That is why we had a recommendation that when we open other sectors such as restaurants, it should be in open air so that there won’t be instances like this),” Vergeire said.

On Saturday, the DoH recorded an additional 1,387 new cases of Covid-19 in the country, bringing the overall tally to 54,222, with 38,813 total active cases

There were 918 fresh cases in the total new cases, while 469 were part of the continuing backlog of samples that have been processed by the Health department based on 71 out of 79 sub-national Covid-19 laboratories.

Recoveries reached 807, for a total of 14,037 total recoveries, while 12 people, nine in April, one in May and two in July, were added to the death tally, now at 1,372.

Of the overall number of cases, a total of 600 Covid-19 patients  are registered in the WHO’s solidarity trial for drugs, the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) said over the weekend.

In a video aired over DoSTv’s Facebook page, DoST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña said the patients came from 22 active sites across the Philippines.

De la Peña added that two drugs are being eyed as a possible treatment for Covid-19 under the trial: remdesivir and ritonavir-lopinavir with interferon beta.

The trial used to include in its tests the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and ritonavir-lopinavir but they were recently removed from the roster over safety issues and effectivity.

“Ang analysis po sa hydroxycholoroquine at lopinavir/ritonavir ay natapos na. And after the results have been analyzed,..[the] WHO [said these are] ineffective at hindi recommended to be used (The analysis of hydroxycholoroquine at lopinavir/ritonavir is done. After the results have been analyzed, the WHO said these are ineffective and not recommended to be used),” de la Peña said.

Earlier, he announced that the DoST together with the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital has started its one-year study on the effectiveness of convalescent plasma therapy as Covid-19 treatment.

De la Peña disclosed that the Philippines ranked fifth worldwide in terms of the number of Covid-19 patients enrolled in the WHO solidarity trial.

He said Canada and India expressed interest to collaborate with the Philippines for Covid-19 vaccine development.

“Ang deklarasyon pong ito ay nagbibigay sa Pilipinas ng mas maraming options for vaccines that we can make available in the country (This declaration gives the Philippines options for vaccines that we can make available in the country),” according to the DoST secretary.

Also earlier, the government’s coronavirus task force approved the Philippines’ collaboration in trials for five vaccines — three from Sinovac, Sinophar and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in China and  two being developed by Adimmune Corp. and Academia Sinica in Taiwan.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), through its Foreign Service Posts, has initiated coordination and exchanges of information with different jurisdictions across the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Africa and the Middle East regarding Covid-19 vaccine developments.

In a statement, it said its initiative is in line with efforts of the Philippine government to ensure that a viable vaccine for Covid-19 may be available to Filipinos in the soonest possible time.

According to the DFA, information on vaccine developments and potential international partners were endorsed by the department to the DoST, the chairman of the Sub-Technical Working Group on Covid-19 Vaccine Clinical Trials.

Based on the gathered information by the DFA, collaboration with Philippine subsidiaries of vaccine developers, engagement with those overseas for conduct of clinical trials, utilization of multilateral efforts to ensure vaccine access and bilateral cooperation are key efforts that must be pursued to ensure that a viable vaccine can be made available and accessible for Filipinos.

The DFA has also been engaged in processing and facilitating international humanitarian assistance for the government’s Covid-19 response.

As of July 6, 2020, it has processed and assisted in facilitation assistance from nine foreign governments and six of their medical agencies, four international organizations and 33 private companies, groups and individuals.

The DFA has also assisted in obtaining flight clearances and in issuing visas to foreign technical experts in relation to Covid-19-related procurement of the Philippine Red Cross and to the Asian Development Bank grant to the DoH.

It is also facilitating receipt of Japan’s grant aid in support of the DoH’s response to Covid-19 and other health emergencies.