Mass testing, tracing eyed as 15M return to work
There must be “exhaustive” testing and contact tracing of suspected coronavirus cases in the next two weeks as almost 15 million workers return to their workplaces under relaxed lockdown guidelines on May 16, a House leader said on Thursday.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chair of the House ways and means panel, warned of a fresh wave of COVID-19 cases due to the easing of quarantine protocols and in the absence of the government’s promised mass testing regimen.
Salceda said the government’s response was “near optimal” as it sought to strike a balance between managing the COVID-19 contagion and reopening the economy.
New outbreaks feared
But he said there might be new outbreaks if the Department of Health did not perform enough testing, tracing and isolation of suspected cases.
“In terms of letting people go to work without causing too many new cases, the [Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases] decision gets it roughly right,” Salceda wrote in the paper.
“But that’s under the assumption that we are testing and tracing enough. We need to test and trace without fail,” he added.
This is a consequence of a “tradeoff between allowing workers to resume employment while keeping the volume of infections under control,” he wrote.
Salceda said his office had initially recommended 40,000 tests a day to flatten the curve of new cases.
But the government admitted this week it had missed its COVID-19 testing targets with only some 8,000 tests a day on Monday. Only about 158,000 people have been tested for the virus as of Tuesday, representing less than 1 percent of the total population, according to reports.
14.6M workers allowed
Under the new quarantine regimen, some 14.6 million workers will be allowed to go to work on-site, on top of the 27.4 million who are currently allowed to work, Salceda said.
The government plans to hire up to 500,000 among those who lost their jobs during the pandemic and its resulting local lockdown to do contract tracing to better contain COVID-19 from spreading.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said that besides dole-outs, the government wanted to create new employment opportunities for displaced workers.
“We are doing a lot of testing, but we are not doing enough contact tracing,” Dominguez said.
“That is a very tedious job and that needs a lot of input,” he noted.
“We can probably hire 300,000, 400,000, maybe even 500,000 people to do contact tracing. It’s not a very difficult job to do, but you need some kind of training—probably one or two days’ training,” he added.
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.