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Palace names anti-COVID czars

MJ Blancaflor

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Three more officials have been designated to lead the government’s strategies in addressing the coronavirus pandemic, particularly for contact tracing, isolation and treatment of individuals with COVID-19.

In a televised briefing on Monday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque bared the appointment of Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong as contact tracing czar, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar as isolation czar and Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega as treatment czar.

They join National COVID-19 Task Force chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. and testing czar Vince Dizon in the group of “Philippine anti-COVID czars” — the elite squad at the forefront of the fight against coronavirus, Roque said.

The Palace official did not elaborate when the three officials have been tapped by President Rodrigo Duterte for their respective duties. No appointment letters from Malacañang were given to reporters as of writing.

Magalong, former chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police, has been lauded for spearheading an enhanced contact tracing method in Baguio City.

In the briefing, he said that “radical” changes would be made to the current contact tracing protocols used by the government. He said that retired investigators, ex-intelligence personnel, and those who have backgrounds in information technology would be tapped as contact tracers, aside from doctors and nurses.

Villar, meanwhile, has been leading the conversion of facilities into quarantine centers for individuals who tested positive for COVID-19.

He said that 50 more quarantine facilities are expected to be built in the next three weeks, composed of 11 sites in Central Visayas, 16 in Eastern Visayas, 20 in Northern Mindanao and three in Soccsksargen.

Vega, who previously served as medical chief of the Southern Philippine Medical Center in Davao, was recently appointed as undersecretary of the Department of Health.

He was also tasked to serve as coordinator of hospitals in Metro Manila amid reports of overcrowding and shortage of beds.

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