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UP researchers: Vastly improved mass testing, contact tracing needed when NCR shifts to GCQ

The government should vastly improve its mass targeted testing and contact tracing efforts by the time the National Capital Region and other high-risk areas for COVID-19 transition to general community quarantine (GCQ), a team of UP researchers said Thursday.

Based on the UP-OCTA COVID-19 Research Team Forecast Report, increasing testing capability is important if the government is to loosen restrictions in Metro Manila, the region hit hardest by the coronavirus.

The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) already recommended that Metro Manila and Davao City be moved from a modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) to a less strict GCQ from June 1 to 15.

Metro Manila's mayors have also agreed to a GCQ, but recommended that mass transport should remain prohibited.

“While it can be argued that the national health system has not been overwhelmed as a result of the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), we emphasize that mass targeted testing and contact tracing have to be vastly improved by the time NCR and other high risk areas transition to GCQ,” the UP OCTA Research Forecast Report read.

“We believe that this challenge falls largely on the local government units (LGUS) which are the key the implementing institutions for these endeavors,” the report added.

In addition, the UP researchers underscore the need to speed up the turnaround time of COVID-19 test results by fast tracking the accreditation of more laboratories, investing in training of more human resource, and ensuring timely and sufficient laboratory supplies.

“We need to ensure that we do not rest on our laurels and continue to work with more stakeholders to expand further our testing capability,” the report pointed out.

When it comes to contact tracing, the UP researchers said that the time has come for the government to embrace this difficult challenge and consider hiring volunteers.

“In previous reports, we have pointed to the important role of effective contact tracing in containing the pandemic. We understand that implementing an effective contact tracing system poses significant challenges, but we must confront and overcome these challenges,” the report said.

“It is time for government to seriously consider mobilizing volunteers for contact tracing,” the report added.

Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire earlier said that the Department of Health is expected to reduce the backlog of 3,683 cases to zero by night time of May 28, Thursday.

As for 7,000 cases for validation, Vergeire earlier said that this is also expected to be expedited with the introduction of the COVIDKAYA program which is the digitization of the data from the laboratories for validation of the DOH, resulting in automated cross-referencing of results across different laboratories.

Vergeire has also said that the government would need a P11.7 billion budget for three months in hiring contact tracers.

Under the existing GCQ protocol, at least 75% of the workforce per company is allowed to physically report back to work and mass transport is available on a scaled down operation.

As for areas under modified enhanced community quarantine, only 50% of the workforce per company is allowed to physically report back to work and mass transport remains prohibited to prevent mass gathering. — BM, GMA News