MANILA — The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday urged the Philippine government to boost its response capacity in dealing with the surge of COVID-19 infections in the Metro Manila and nearby provinces, as vaccine jabs could only do so much.
In an interview on ABS-CBN's Teleradyo, WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said early contact tracing, quarantining, isolation, and expanded testing have succeeded in preventing the virus surge in other countries.
Pandemic epicenter Metro Manila and nearby provinces Rizal, Bulacan, and Laguna, were placed under enhanced community quarantine up to April 11 due to record-high COVID-19 cases, which peaked at over 15,000 last week.
"The vaccine is an additional tool in the response... Besides the vaccines, it is critically important that the response capacity is strengthened," the WHO official said.
The statement of Abeyasinghe also came as the country deals with limited coronavirus jabs, with the government maximizing China's Sinovac vaccines for the priority sectors for its vaccination rollout program.
He added that strengthening the response only "as a result of the surge we are experiencing" should be discouraged, noting that the government should have measures in responding to COVID-19 cases proactively.
This would also ensure "stability" when the gradual and safe opening of the economy follows.
"Even as we roll out the vaccines, the strengthened response capacity, especially in the early contact tracing, quarantining, and isolation, identifying where these amplifying events of transmission are happening and doing everything to minimize that," he explained.
"Building critically informed for us... to actually ensure that we reach some kind of stabilization like we did a few months ago so that some degree of economic opening up and revival will be possible," he added.
Hospitals in Metro Manila continue to be filled up amid a stream of fresh admissions due to the coronavirus, straining the region's healthcare system.
According to the Department of Health's latest bulletin, the capital region's COVID-19 dedicated intensive care units (ICUs) have already reached 81 percent occupancy. Some 73 percent of isolation beds, meanwhile, are 73 percent utilized.
ICU beds nationwide, on the other hand, are 63 percent utilized while isolation beds in the country are 50 percent occupied.
MANAGE HEALTHCARE CAPACITY
Abeyasinghe pointed out that a comprehensive COVID-19 response would also help in preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed in the future.
Filipinos and local governments also have responsibilities in stemming the virus spread by following minimum health protocols and implementing these measures in the community level, he said.
"I think we need a coordinated contact tracing and management strategy to be implemented preferably to strengthen these response. And while we are doing that, we also need to emphasize the need for people like individuals, community and local government [in] following the minimum public health standards," he said.
Mild and asymptomatic COVID-19 patients should also be brought to temporary treatment facilities to prevent straining hospitals, which should be dedicated to people with comorbidities or are critically ill of the disease.
"Healthcare workers can better manage in this way. We will improve the treatment outcome of those people and reduce the deaths and of course we need to recognize that many of these health workers have been extremely stressed... working in these very trying circumstances."
The Philippines has tallied 828,366 COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, of which 167,279 are remaining active infections, the highest since the pandemic hit over a year ago.
As of April 6, nearly 923,000 doses of both Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines have been administered all over the country.
Among the worst hit by the pandemic in Asia, the Philippines aims to vaccinate up to 70 million people or two-thirds of its population this year to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus.