WHO reiterates need for early diagnosis, contact tracing to curb COVID-19 spread

Rose Carmelle Lacuata, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 08 2021 07:42 PM

Residents observe quarantine rules as Barangay178, Zone 19, Pasay City is placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) on Tuesday. The city government imposed extended localized community quarantine, 14 days from February 22, in more than 30 barangays after the city recorded a 200 percent spike in new coronavirus infections. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - A World Health Organization (WHO) official on Monday reiterated the need for early diagnosis and contact tracing to curb the spread of COVID-19, instead of implementing large-scale lockdowns.

Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the WHO Representative to the Philippines, said the international agency has been discouraging the implementation of tight restrictions due to the impact on the economy.

"From the beginning of the pandemic, we said that putting high restrictions is not the way to respond to this pandemic because that creates unnecessary economic burden and restrictions on the communities," Abeyasinghe told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.

"That is why we were advocating early diagnosis, strengthening of contact tracing and management, and ensuring that infections are detected early and managed appropriately," he added.

Abeyasinghe said restrictions should only be imposed in smaller settings, such as in barangays or puroks.

"It's when that fails that we have to look at the so-called non-pharmaceutical interventions and restriction of movements, and even in that case, if we can get it early and restrict movement on a very limited scale, meaning at a city, or barangay or purok level, we will be able to avert the need for large-scale lockdowns at the city or regional level," he said.

"And because the larger the lockdown, the greater the disruption, the greater the economic hardships people have to face. So that is the whole idea of the response being calibrated, so that we minimize the need to go there. And we still believe that we can do this without going into large-scale lockdowns," he added.

Abeyasinghe, likewise, said lockdowns should be data-driven, and implemented as soon as small clusters of transmissions are detected.

"That's what we are saying, that the lockdowns need to be data-driven. They need to be enforced where we see small foci of transmission rather than waiting for the whole city to be infected by the infection," he said.

"If we do that well enough, early enough, we will avert the need for those large-scale lockdowns," Abeyasinghe added.

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Abeyasinghe's statement comes as the Philippines remains under lockdown, nearly a year since it was first implemented.

The nearly year-long quarantine measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 has left businesses struggling, millions jobless, and the economy falling into recession.

The Philippines has recorded a total of 597,763 coronavirus infections, among the highest in Asia, of few of which involve the more contagious coronavirus variants first identified in South Africa and Britain.

Despite the continuing increase in daily cases, Malacañang said the Philippines cannot afford a return to stricter quarantine levels.

Metro Manila has recorded an average of 1,025 new daily cases over the past 7 days, an increase of 42 percent from the previous week and 130 percent compared to 2 weeks ago, the OCTA Research group said. 

Infections are "spreading more quickly than the July-August surge," in 2020, when the capital region was placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the third strictest of 4 lockdown levels, added the independent research team.