PH gov’t still having trouble tracing COVID-19 patients' contacts

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 15 2020 12:12 AM

MANILA — With one COVID-19 patient already dead and two fully recovered, the Philippine government is still unable to trace hundreds of people who came in contact with them.

Of the 455 who interacted with the Chinese couple who became the first two cases of COVID-19 in the country — a 38-year-old woman who recovered from the disease and a 44-year-old man who died — only 277 have been interviewed. 

Of that number 218 have already completed their 14-day home quarantine, said Dr. Maria Rosario Vergeire, Health assistant secretary for public health services, during a press conference. Fifteen are still on home quarantine while 44 who showed symptoms were admitted into hospitals as patients under investigation (PUIs).

Of the contacts of the third case, a 60-year-old Chinese woman who also traveled to the Philippines from Wuhan, only 34 percent or 255 of the total 740 have been traced. The third patient has a longer list of contacts because she rode a fastcraft ferry from Cebu to Bohol, which did not have strict seating arrangements. 

The Department of Health said its Epidemiology Bureau decided to include everyone on the ferry in its contact tracing list.

“Currently, 172 or 67 percent of traced contacts have been interviewed. Of these, 93 have completed their home quarantine, while 62 are still on home quarantine,” said Vergeire. 

Meanwhile, 17 of the contacts who showed symptoms were admitted to hospitals as patients under investigation.

The DOH has earlier said it has been difficult for them to trace contacts because some have incomplete or erroneous contact details listed with airlines and other transportation companies.

“We’ve been discussing this with our agencies,” Vergeire said. “Some numbers, when we try to call them, are incomplete while others cannot be reached anymore.”

Vergeire said they already met with the Philippine National Police, which has been assisting in tracking down the contacts, and the Commission on Elections. 

The health official said they hope to find a way to prevent such problems from happening again.

Asked what will happen if they are unable to find the contacts, Vergerie said “We are still trying to complete the list so we can trace everybody. We are coordinating what to do for now.”

Of the total cumulative number of patients under investigation of 455, 386 have already tested negative for COVID-19, which has infected more than 60,000 people worldwide, according to one report. Almost 1,500 have died because of the disease.

“We are glad that most of our PUIs tested negative for 2019-nCoV. While this is very welcome news, we at the DOH will continue our preparations for the possibility of local transmission,” Vergeire quoted Health Secretary Francisco Duque III as saying.

All three COVID-19 cases confirmed in the Philippines were “imported” or involved travelers from China. But in other countries like Singapore, patients who tested positive for the disease included people with no travel history from China. This meant that the disease has spread among the local population.

DOH previously said that there is a trend in local transmission and that it is preparing for it by ensuring the capacity of local hospitals.