Mass testing, tracing ‘crucial,’ says top man in PH virus fight
MANILA, Philippines — The government must conduct mass testing of all people under observation or monitoring for the new coronavirus for it to identify the carriers and give them treatment, the chief implementer of the National Action Plan against COVID-19 said on Wednesday.
Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. said mass testing would allow health authorities to isolate the carriers and halt the spread of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, a severe respiratory disease that has killed more than 42,000 people across the globe as of Wednesday.
“Contact tracing will be crucial in this effort, as it will enable us to quickly and effectively identify the potential carriers of the [virus] and isolate them from the rest of the community before they can infect others,” Galvez said in a statement.
227 new cases
The Department of Health (DOH) reported 227 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of infections to 2,311. Eight more patients died, raising the toll to 96.
The DOH said one patient had recovered, raising the number of survivors to 50.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire did not explain what the new numbers mean and if these are stable enough for the DOH to draw an assessment and see a trend in confirmed cases.
She only reminded the public that the spread of the coronavirus can be halted if people will do their part, such as obeying orders to stay at home, practice social distancing and washing their hands frequently.
Vergeire earlier said more cases were to be expected in the next few days as the country expanded its testing capacity.
There are, however, 49 laboratories all over the country still awaiting accreditation as coronavirus testing centers.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier said the decision to lift the Luzon lockdown or extend it “rests on the correct status of the COVID-19 situation in the Philippines.”
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said mass testing was “a must” if the Philippines wanted the pain inflicted by the coronavirus on the health-care system and the economy to go away.
If the country does not have the capability for mass testing yet, “we shouldn’t despair but rather build up the capacity to do so,” Dominguez said.
He said extending the Luzon lockdown would be “certainly not positive” for the economy, but “the goals are to preserve the health of the people, to provide financial support to the people in the informal sector, to support all the [medical] front-liners, and to provide liquidity to the economy.”
According to Galvez, the government is adopting a strategy that zeroes in on virus carriers by tracking them down, and isolating and treating them before allowing them to rejoin the community.
“Through this approach, we hope to get a bigger picture of the geographic affectation, the number of COVID-19 patients, the current number of facilities [that] are available, and the resources needed for this massive, nationwide effort,” he said.
The approach runs in line with the National Task Force on COVID-19’s “detect-isolate-treat” strategy, Galvez said.
He said the task force would attempt to take all coronavirus suspects out of their communities by April 14 in compliance with a timetable set by President Duterte.
Once this is done, evaluations will be conducted at the sitio and barangay levels starting on April 15, he said.
The evaluations will be the basis for declaring communities “cleared” of the disease, Galvez said.
He said the government’s interventions would be implemented by line agencies and local governments.
Local governments, he said, “should find innovative ways by combining the strategy of selective and total lockdowns, massive testing, and designation of appropriate ‘forced quarantine’ facilities” for potential virus carriers.
—WITH REPORTS FROM JOVIC YEE AND BEN O. DE VERA
The Inquirer Foundation supports our healthcare frontliners and is still accepting cash donations to be deposited at Banco de Oro (BDO) current account #007960018860 or donate through PayMaya using this link .
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.