(Left) City IMT chief Dr. Dean Palanca, (Right) city information officer Richard Ligad.

The city government is raising fears that a more aggressive variant of the COVID-19 virus could be behind the spate of cases that have recently turned out in Puerto Princesa, and had formally asked the Department of Health (DOH) for assistance in conducting tests to validate this observation.

Dr. Dean Palanca, head of the City Incident Management Team (IMT), said they have forwarded their request to the DOH, as he expressed concern that the present surge of cases is straining the city’s capacity to accommodate new patients.

“Sa aking palagay meron na tayong new variant talaga dito. Based sa akin lang na nakikitang symptoms doon sa mga nag-positive dati sa RT-PCR, ang symptoms ay nagsusuka at nagtatae lang. Mayroong iba, sobrang sakit ng ulo at nahihilo. May mga bagong sintomas na lumalabas na maliban sa usual na ubo, sipon, at sore throat,” he sad.

He said that only the DOH can provide the proper facilities, and that the city has already made a request for this.

“Kailangan kasing dumaan sa genome sequencing ang sample para malaman kung ano ang variant,” Dr. Palanca said.

Medical facilities reaching critical limit

In an online public briefing, Dr. Palanca disclosed that the city is running out of hospital beds and isolation units and is opening new isolation facilities to accommodate the increasing number of antigen-positive patients who need to be isolated.

The city IMT is currently prescribing quarantine facility isolation to contact-traced individuals who turned out positive in antigen or rapid test. This, in lieu of the more reliable RT-PCR tests that is currently not available due to a shortage of the laboratory machine’s cartridges.

Dr. Palanca said they are finding more and more individuals testing positive in the antigen tests, and are categorizing them as “COVID suspect.”

“Ang total na ngayon na antigen-positive, o COVID suspect ay nasa 120 and counting. Kahapon lang 120, at mayroon pang mga bago today, hindi ko pa alam ang final count,” he said.

While the city’s tighter protocols remain unchanged, and officials are urging city residents to practice extra caution, now that three more deaths have been recorded.

“Napupuno na tayo sa dami ng mga close contact. Babalik na ako doon sa ating antigen testing kasi wala tayong RT-PCR test. Hindi tayo makapag-request niyan kasi may shortage sa buong Pilipinas, kaya we resorted to antigen.

Reduced manpower of health frontliners

Dr. Palanca admitted that their ranks and manpower have been reduced due to the surge of cases.

“Actually, nakakapagod na. Kulang na kami ng tao talaga,” he said.

Independent sources have told Palawan News that several IMT personnel had been quarantined due to their exposure to COVID positive cases as part of their contract tracing activities.