‘We’re testing the wrong people’: Gov’t must improve testing in fight vs. COVID-19, says Ubial


Posted at Aug 04 2021 01:28 PM | Updated as of Aug 04 2021 01:54 PM

Members of the Quezon City Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance conduct COVID-19 swab testing
Members of the Quezon City Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance conduct COVID-19 swab testing for residents along Dupax Street in Barangay Old Balara on May 31, 2021, after reported 6000 people flocked to a charity food distribution event in the area and broke health and safety protocols last May 25. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA – Government must improve contact tracing and test ‘the right people’ in order to better fight the COVID-19 pandemic, a former Health secretary said Wednesday.

In an interview on ANC’s Rundown, former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said that the government could have done better at contact tracing, which would have been key to containing the deadly disease’s outbreak.

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“That’s at the heart of the pandemic. Because you attack the virus at the source. What is the source? It’s people with COVID or people who are positive. So you start your effort with all the people that you know are already positive. Because that’s the only source of this virus,” she said.

Ubial noted that 16 months into the global pandemic, the Philippines only traces 4 or 5 close contacts of every patient who tests positive for COVID-19. 

The ideal ratio is 1:37, according to contact tracing czar Benjamin Magalong.

Ubial, who is the Philippine Red Cross’s biomolecular laboratories chief, also said the government is testing the ‘wrong people’ as it attempts to arrest the spread of the pandemic.

“Our data in the Red Cross shows that majority of the people who come to the mega-swabbing facilities are actually no history of contact, no signs and symptoms, so really, the positivity rate (is) really very low. So we’re testing the wrong people,” she said.

“We’re not testing the right people. Even if we open mega-swabbing facilities, we don’t screen who’s coming there, who’s getting tested. And most of them are not high-risk. Most of them are just, siguro the more enthusiastic and health-conscious people. But they’re not positive. Or they’re not likely to be positive.”


Ubial also says that the Philippines was late and slow in the rollout of its vaccination program, noting that other countries started vaccinating their citizens as early as December.

“We started our vaccination in March. And those were healthcare workers only. We started vaccinating the seniors and adults with comorbidities in April. So we have a 4-month window where we could have started protecting our people,” she said. 

“And then when we started vaccination--because I’m also involved in the vaccination effort of Red Cross-- it was very very slow. Like we could have had, in our bakuna centers, 600 per day. Because that’s the ratio we calculate with our human resource. But we were only vaccinating 100-200 a day. So sayang yung resources mo.”


Ubial said ramping up contact tracing is still the way to go as the country tries to contain the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant.

“Because you’re blind if you don’t test people who can possibly…no, I’m not saying test everyone, no. That’s not the strategy. You have to focus your testing on the people that are most likely to be positive.”

The former health secretary recommends the contact tracing ratio be increased to 1:20 or 1:30.

“Now, we have Senator Gordon who turned positive the other week, we tested around 60+ of his contacts. Because that’s really how to go about it. You have to be very careful and serious about who to test because of contact tracing. And we’re not there.”