SWAB TESTING. Returning overseas Filipino workers line up to get tested at a swabbing facility last week. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said for a faster conduct of mass tracing, there should be enough manpower to do the job of identifying cases and tracing their contacts so that they can be put into isolation before they show symptoms. (PNA photo by Avito Dalan)

MANILA – Fast contact tracing, a crucial part of a multi-pronged approach in the fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, can prevent a new wave of cases, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Wednesday.

Duque said for a faster conduct of mass tracing, there should be enough manpower to do the job of identifying cases and tracing their contacts so that they can be put into isolation before they show symptoms.

"Mabilis ang mass tracing na may sapat na contact tracers ang kailangan para hindi makalusot ang Covid at agaran ma-isolate. Ano ba ang sapat? Isang contact tracer per 800 katao. Kung ang siyudad ay may populasyon na 40,000, kelangan ng 500 contact tracers na ma-mobilize (Fast mass tracing with enough number of contact tracers and immediate isolation to prevent the spread of Covid-19. What would be enough? There must be one contact tracer per 800 persons. If a city has a population of 40,000 people, 500 contact tracers must be mobilized)," Duque said in a virtual press briefing in Malacañang.

In the same briefing, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said there is a need to trace, test, isolate, and treat Filipinos infected with Covid-19 even until 2021.

"So, kailangan ang pinaka workforce natin talaga ngayon ay ang ating mga contact tracers. So, sa LGU [local government unit] levels magha-hire tayo, dito rin sa ating national agencies, meron din tayong iha-hire diyan kasi integrated ang effort natin (We need to have a workforce of contact tracers. So, we'll hire in the LGU level, also at the national, we'll hire because our efforts are integrated), national, regional, provincial, down to the municipalities but of course, these are all led by our local chief executives)," Año said, adding that the government has enough budget to hire contact tracers on a permanent or temporary basis.

Several regions, including the National Capital Region, remain under enhanced community quarantine, which expires on May 15.

On May 12, authorities announced the gradual lifting and easing of restrictions, from ECQ, to modified ECQ, to general community quarantine of provinces and cities nationwide.

As some areas shift to modified ECQ or GCQ, Duque said local government units (LGUs), residents, and establishments should be guided by minimum public health standards and minimum health capacity standards amid the continued threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Minimum public health standards, such as proper hand washing, wearing of masks when going out, and physical distancing, are expected to be observed by families and public and private establishments.

"Samantalang ang ating mga establisiyemiyento at awtoridad dapat nagagawa ang palaging pag-di-disinfect, limitasyon sa pagtitipon, temperature screening, symptom screening, o hindi na pinapapasok ang empleyadong may sintomas (Establishments and authorities must be able to perform regular disinfection, mass gathering limitation, temperature screening, symptom screening, or sending home employees with Covid-19 symptoms)," he said.

Meanwhile, Duque said LGUs should coordinate with the national government in observing minimum health capacity standards, which include national, regional, and provincial targets as stated under Administrative Order 2020-0016.

The national targets for Covid-19 preparedness and response strategies include performance of 30,000 reverse transcription - polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests per day, provision of 5 million to 6 million sets of personal protective equipment per month, and availability of 6,000 Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and 6,000 mechanical ventilators.

The regional targets include at least one biosafety laboratory 2 with RT-PCR testing capacity; at least one dedicated referral hospital facility, floor or wing for severe or critical cases; and at least one for every 25,000 population.

Provincial targets for human resources include at least one epidemiology and surveillance officer for every 100,000 population; at least one contact tracing personnel for every 800 population; at least one Barangay Health Emergency Response Team for every 1,000 population, and at least 10 trained testing staff.

For the provincial infrastructure targets, there must be at least one isolation bed for every 2,500 population; at least one ambulance or medical transport; at least one dedicated transport for specimen; and at least one designated funeral home or crematorium. (PNA)