The country’s contact tracing czar called out Saturday local government officials for what he described as inconsistent COVID-19 testing and tracing efforts, saying projecting a well-managed coronavirus situation in localities was becoming “political” in the run up to the 2022 elections.
In a virtual briefing, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong did not rein in words in criticizing local chief executives as regards boosting and maintaining their COVID-19 tracing and testing capacities.
This emerged as the country confirmed additional cases of the more transmissible strain of the virus and an observed post-holiday surge in the total number of cases following increased activity during Christmas time.
On Friday, the country recorded 2,178 new cases, the highest daily tally seen in over two months.
Magalong said he hoped local government units would adopt the “mindset to really expand, go the extra mile” to raise contact tracing efforts.
The ideal ratio, he said, is 37 contacts traced for every COVID-positive patient.
“I cannot overemphasize the importance of contact tracing… we have to expand it to the third generation, this is even SOP (standard operating procedure). Our aim is to go beyond the second generation, even third, fourth generation,” he said.
Rody gives green light to LGUs
Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the decision of cities throughout the country to procure their own COVID-19 vaccine supplies, so long as the jabs are approved by the Food and Drug Authority (FDA).
“Doon sa mga local governments, Sakur, wala akong objection kung magbili ang local government para iturok doon sa mga tao. OK ’yan. Walang inggitan ’to, puro tayo gobyerno,” Duterte told Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan during his visit to Army headquarters in the province on Friday.
Clearing vaccines first with the FDA is a must, the President added.
“Ang akin lang is that kung anuman ang i-ano ninyo, i-vaccinate, just clear it with the FDA. Lahat naman dumadaan talaga diyan. So, it’s a mandatory requirement. Other than that, I have nothing to do,” said Duterte. Willie Casas and Dave Leprozo
“What is happening now is LGUs tend to portray a very good COVID-19 situation in their area so the tendency (is to) lower contact tracing and lower testing,” he said.
He noted that the lack of contact-tracing and testing reflected directly on case detection.
“Simple logic. No testing, no contract tracing, no COVID-19. Low testing, low contact tracing low cases. Are we really going to really, with this kind of attitude and mindset, are we really projecting the right situation in the country?” Magalong said.
“Especially now that we have the election, the tendency of our local executives... It’s a political move on their part to show they are managing well their contact tracing despite the fact that they have an inadequate system... We are lying to ourselves. We are lying to the public,” he said.
Magalong did not identify the LGUs but he called on the Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19 response to tell local government units to “bring out the real situation in the area” by consistent contact tracing and COVID-19 testing.
In the early months of the pandemic crisis, local governments were directed to boost contact-tracing efforts and create local teams.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III agreed with Magalong’s sentiment, saying he would convince the budget department to fund the hiring of more contact tracers.
“It is not right for these local executives to have a very superficial behavior in our pandemic response. I think it will be their loss if they don’t manage this correctly... they are the ones who will be held accountable in the end,” Duque said.
Health officials and experts also renewed their appeal for the public to comply strictly with minimum health standards to prevent further rise in the country’s COVID-19 cases.
Duque said people should follow precautions when going out in consideration of vulnerable sectors, including the elderly and those with comorbidities.
“As long as there are breaches of minimum health standards, there will be more transmissions,” he added.
Epidemiologist Dr. John Wong cited the need to have the number of cases under control to prevent further mutations of the virus.
“Every Filipino has not just the responsibility but the ability to do that, we already know how to do that, we need to take action, avoid crowds, close conversations, closed venues… cases where a lot of people are talking without masks,” he said.
Dr. Marissa Alejandria, a member of the country’s COVID-19 technical advisory group, warned that the virus “will continuously mutate to survive,” and that it is everybody’s shared responsibility to fight it.
She said: “If we relax, there will be more cases and the chances of the virus further mutating will be higher. That’s why we really need to keep our cases down because it’s part of the evolution, survival of the virus.”
She said strict implementation of preventive measures was necessary to cut the chain of COVID-19 transmission. She urged those who may feel symptoms to immediately isolate and seek a medical check.
Health authorities have said it is premature to say if there was already community transmission of the new and more transmissible COVID-19 variant in the Philippines, even while new cases of the strain were recorded among those with no travel history.
In an online press briefing, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine director Dr. Celia Carlos said it was “premature” to conclude that there is local transmission following the confirmation of 16 more cases of the new variant.
Carlos said there were standards laid down by experts to determine if there had been local transmission but added they would wait for the results of the investigation.
“Considering that investigation is ongoing it may be premature to say whether there’s an ongoing community transmission,” Carlos said.
Among the standards, Carlos said, is the detection of a large number of cases not linkable through transmission chains, a large number of cases from several sides “if there is an existing surveillance,” and multiple unrelated clusters in several areas of the country.
Dr. Edsel Salvana, a member of the Department of Health’s Technical Advisory Group, agreed, saying: “Right now there is no evidence of that (community transmission) … and we know they are all related) and we have to find one person (with a) common source.”