MANILA – The Department of Health should release data showing the scientific basis for reducing the COVID-19 quarantine period, a group said Friday.
“Given the changes in the policy, we still have to see the evidence on what is really the basis for decreasing that period in order for us to assure our patients that they’re no longer infectious at the end of the shortened quarantine or isolation period,” said Coalition for People’s Right to Health co-convenor Dr. Joshua San Pedro.
San Pedro said some data still show that COVID-19 patients can infect others even after their fifth day in quarantine.
“So this aspect of reducing it to 7 days is based on a notion of an acceptable risk. So, how many, what was the percentage of the population that is less likely to be able to infect at the end of that time?” he asked.
“And we have research showing that there is a significant decrease by the 7th day but it is still not zero, it’s still not even less than 5 percent,” he said.
“So that is something that, as we saw in the UK, they have to check if they test negative with lateral flow test or antigen test at day 5 or day 6. However in the Philippines we’re just assuming that these patients would not be infectious at the end of the 7th or 10th day of isolation.”
“So this has to be really scrutinized further. We are calling on the DOH to release the evidence that they’re basing this on in order for us to be able to reassure our patients that they will no longer be infecting other people once they are released from isolation,” San Pedro said.
The doctor also said that some COVID-19 symptoms can still appear after a patient’s mandatory quarantine.
“So the problem is that if the symptoms will come out past that quarantine period,” he noted.
“That raises the question na do we have to, do we consider them already as past their quarantine period and thus they are not at risk to become infectious? Or there is still that risk that when they develop their symptoms, it is a delayed manifestation of the infection and thus become potentially infectious as well to the rest of the population?”
San Pedro also said the DOH must make COVID-testing more accessible to more Filipinos.
“Well it seems that we’ve actually regressed in terms of testing. It is ironic that the DOH, initially, in 2020, said that mass testing is something that they will consider when the time comes, and now all of a sudden we’re hearing that, you know mass testing is irrational.”
“So it is kind of ironic that we’re hearing, instead of advocating for more testing especially with the positivity rate so high, with all of our laboratories already maximized as it stands with that still insufficient capacity, we’re hearing support for lower testing.”
“So it doesn’t really add up in the aspect of really trying to find more cases and mitigating the spread,” he said.
“There is really so much more to be done in terms of increasing testing capacity and yet here we are, decreasing the overall amount of testing,” he added.
The doctor also hit the DOH’s plan to shift to ‘sentinel testing’ as COVID-19 cases surge in the country.
“Regarding the remark for sentinel testing, actually sentinel testing is something that is done in the early part of an epidemic. In 2019, that was something that the WHO was suggesting, when we’re only starting to see some isolated and clusters of cases of COVID,” he noted.
“This is not something you would do when you already have local or community transmission because if you have the capacity--and the Philippines claimed that it had the capacity to be able to test individuals-- then that’s something that must be focused on instead of regressing the commitment to testing,” San Pedro said.
He also said the cost of COVID-19 tests in the Philippines must be brought down.
“Definitely we have to incentivize testing in trying to bring the cost down. Actually, if we look at the cost of testing as it stands, testing is still largely unaffordable for a lot of individuals. The PhilHealth coverage for testing has actually even [gone] down,” he noted.
“In terms of the testing amount, we can always incentivize, try to decrease the cost by, with subsidies, with looking at how much really testing would really cost by looking at better ways to have a price cap and removing aspects that increase profits on testing.”
“And at the same time approving the antigen test, which are more affordable, more accessible, would definitely be able to empower people to access testing, but unfortunately this is still something that the Departmemt of Health is still reluctant to do so.”
“And this is the fastest way really that we can increase our testing capacity at a way cheaper price, at the same time being able to count more and establish these amounts of cases that are piling up,” he said.
--ANC, 14 January 2022