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Philippine COVID-19 Increase Concerns WHO Representative

Aie Balagtas See
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Police officers wearing personal protection suits implement quarantine rules and health protocols 
at the Baguio City public market in the northern Philippines, June 23 2020.
Police officers wearing personal protection suits implement quarantine rules and health protocols at the Baguio City public market in the northern Philippines, June 23 2020.
Jojo Rinoza/BenarNews

Updated at 5:05 p.m. ET on 2020-07-15

The Philippine government should increase COVID-19 testing, then quarantine and isolate those exposed, the World Health Organization’s representative here said Tuesday as the number of nationwide cases topped 57,000.

Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said the increasing transmission rate of COVID-19 was a worrying trend, adding that the government should improve its contact tracing methods.

“It’s still imperative that we use the increased testing capacity, to use that information not only to identify patients but also to identify who has been exposed to it, who else is potentially infected. Then quarantine and isolate those people so that we can arrest for the spread,” the WHO's representative here told members of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

“What is worrying is that the proportion of positive cases is very slowly increasing,” he said. “This shows that there is continuing transmission.”

On Tuesday, the health department reported six deaths, bringing the toll to 1,603 while 634 people tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 57,545.

The department said it had to adjust figures after some duplicates were removed from the total official count. In addition, the number reported can be subject to change as health officials continue with their validation.

Globally, more than 13.1 million COVID-19 cases and more than 574,000 deaths have been recorded as of Tuesday, according to disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

Abeyasinghe declined to compare Philippines to its neighbors in Southeast Asia.

He did say that countries with good standards have test results available in a few hours, immediately followed by rapid identification of contacts and isolation.

In the Philippines, by comparison, test results take a minimum of 48 hours to be released and patients provide incomplete data to the government, making tracing more difficult, he said, adding that strong coordination among local and national government units was critical.

Abeyasinghe encouraged the central government to be more transparent and tell people the exact locations of outbreaks.

Government reactions

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman said the government continued to seek ways to speed up testing so results could be available within 24 hours, including partnering with private companies.

“We are increasing testing capacity,” spokesman Harry Roque said Tuesday, adding the government had given PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests to 1 million people and was on track to achieving its goal of testing 30,000 people a day. In addition, private companies offer tests with one-day results.

“What we are doing is allowing the private laboratories to conduct tests, especially to those returning OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) and seamen because we could not afford to keep returning workers in hotels for two or three days while waiting for the PCR test,” he said.

“So it is important that not only we increase the testing capacity, but also the speed by which results are released,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, Interior Scretary Eduardo Año warned that police would search homes for COVID-19 patients while urging people to report cases in their neighborhoods, citing a 2019 law on disease reporting, according to Reuters news service. He said those infected who refused to cooperate could be sent to prison.

“We don’t want positive patients to stay home in quarantine especially if their homes don’t have the capacity,” Año told reporters at a news conference. “So what we will do ... is to go house-to-house and we will bring the positive cases to our COVID-19 isolation facilities.”

Roque clarified that no one would be forcibly taken from their homes, but stressed only those with separate rooms with toilets who are not living with elderly people or pregnant women would be allowed to “home quarantine.”

“If they don’t have a separate room, they would be picked up and taken to an isolation center. All the isolation centers are air conditioned, have free food and are equipped with Wi-Fi,” he said. “So all those who are asymptomatic or have mild cases ... are welcome at our isolation centers,” he said.

The Metro Manila region remains under a general quarantine even as the government has allowed certain public functions to resume while Cebu in the central Philippines is under an enhanced quarantine.

CORRECTION: Interior Secretary Eduardo Año was misidentified in an earlier version of this report.

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