The “weakest link” in the Philippines’ response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is contact tracing, experts from the University of the Philippines (UP) said on Monday.
In a May 8 study, researchers Guido David, Ranjit Singh Rye, and Ma. Patricia Agbulos underscored the need for effective contact tracing to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“We continue to reiterate the need for an efficient and effective contract tracing system to track those who could have been exposed to the infective individual,” they said.
“To this end, the national and local government should consider hiring and training more personnel to do contact tracing. Where applicable, digital contact tracing apps should be used,” they added.
The Department of Health (DOH) earlier called for contact tracing volunteers while the Department of Information and Communications Technology said it was eyeing a contact tracing app developed in Singapore.
On May 5, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire reported that over 36,000 people had been identified as contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases, days after Senator Panfilo Lacson slammed the DOH’s contact tracing efforts as “non-existent.”
“Mass testing without effective contact tracing will only increase the [reproduction number] without stemming possible new infections, especially once the restrictions are loosened,” the UP experts warned.
Their forecasts also showed that COVID-19 cases in the Philippines could spike to 24,000 with 1,700 deaths by June 15 if the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) over Metro Manila and other high-risk areas was lifted prematurely.
The Philippines has recorded 11,086 COVID-19 cases with 1,999 recoveries and 726 deaths as of Monday afternoon.
The experts urged the government to extend the ECQ over Metro Manila, Batangas, Cebu, Zamboanga del Sur, and Davao City “until such time that it has scaled up and rolled out its programs and its initiatives for mass testing, contact tracing, and isolation of infective individuals.”
“We wish to emphasize that we are faced with a choice, not between the economy and public health (lives vs livelihood), but between a less or more costly disruption to the lives of ordinary Filipinos,” they said.
President Rodrigo Duterte was expected to decide on the fate of the ECQ on Tuesday. — DVM, GMA News