MANILA— The country's contact tracing czar on Saturday called out 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" on the runup to the 2022 elections.
In a virtual briefing, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong did not mince words at taking local chief executives to task to boost and maintain their COVID-19 tracing and testing capacities.
This, 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 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. Our aim is to go beyond the second generation, even third, fourth generation," he said.
"Kaya lang nangyayari ngayon (But what is happening now is) LGUs tend to portray a very good COVID-19 situation in their area so tendency lower contact tracing and lower testing," he said.
He noted that the lack of contact-tracing and testing reflects 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, ang tendency ng ating (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 inadequate system... Binobola lang natin ang sarili natin (We are lying to ourselves). We are lying to the public," he said.
Magalong did not mention particular LGUs by name. 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.
"Tama na itong local chief executives, di tamang daanin sa very superficiual behavior sa pandemic response. Tingin ko ikakatalo nila 'yan eh 'pag hindi nila inayos pamamalakad… Sila rin mananagot sa bandang huli," he said.
(It is right that these chief executives, it is not right for them 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.)
APPEALS TO COMPLY WITH PREVENTION PROTOCOL
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, lalong dadami ang transmission (there will be more transmissions)," he said.
"Isipin natin na ‘yung iba na maaring mamatay dahil sa ating kapabayaan," he added.
(Let us keep in mind that there are people who could die because of our neglect.)
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.
"So kung magre-relax tayo, mas dadami [cases] so chance niya na mag-mutate tataas. Kaya we really need again to really keep our cases down kasi nga it’s part of the evolution, survival of the virus," 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.
As of Friday, the Philippines has recorded over 509,000 cases of COVID-19, with a rise observed in the wake of the holidays.