Palace forms team of COVID-19 ‘czars’ to intensify test-trace-treat response

As the country is confronted with the surge in coronavirus cases, the government has formed a team of "czars" to oversee the accelerated efforts to test, trace and treat people with the illness.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr.

According to Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, the team of "Philippine Anti-COVID czars" is composed of Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez Jr., Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, Bases Conversion and Development Corporation president Vivencio Dizon, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, and Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega.

Roque said Vega, former head of the Southern Philippines Medical Center, will serve as the country’s "chief treatment czar.”  Dizon, Magalong and Villar have been designated as the czars on testing, contact tracing, and isolation/quarantine, respectively.

The concerned officials laid down the government's latest coronavirus response during a televised press conference in Malacañang.

“Ang ating istratehiya sa matinding pagsubok ng COVID-19, mas malawakang targeted testing, mas maraming isolation  centers, mas matinding tracing at mas matinding treatment para sa mga nagkakasakit. Lahat po iyan sa ilalim ng NTF, sa Ilalim ng ating Chief Implementer, Secretary Galvez (Our strategy in the intense challenge of COVID is expanded targeted testing, more isolation centers, aggressive testing and treatment for those sick. All of these will be under the National Task Force, under chief implementer Secretary Galvez),” Roque said.

Roque recognized that the cases of infections have increased in the country, particularly in Metro Manila, but assured the public that this can be placed under control through intensified testing, tracing and treatment. 

As of July 12, the country has recorded 56,259 cases of coronavirus with 1,534 deaths.

Galvez said the government has started the second phase of its action plan aimed at "saving lives and mitigating impact as one towards economic and social recovery.” 

He said the national strategy aims to contain and manage new cases, sustain gains and continue hospital capacity-building and resilience, as well as rebalance health and economic objectives using the hammer and dance theory. It will also move to localize the pandemic response with the local government units leading the initiative to keep the country's fatality rate low.

Galvez said there will also be localized lockdowns, massive information campaign of health protocols, as well as strict enforcement and heavy penalties for violators

On the government's testing efforts, Dizon said the government is set to issue new guidelines on the expanded testing this week.  The expanded testing will cover non-medical frontliners such as police officers, barangay officials, waiters, security guards and cashiers.

Dizon said the country has 85 testing laboratories for the coronavirus.  Around 978,651 tests have been conducted as of July 11. "Siguro sa mga susunod na araw ay lalampas na tayo sa one million test (Maybe we will exceed one million tests in the coming days)," he said.

The daily coronavirus tests have reached 25,000 as of July 9.  "Malapit na malapit na po tayo sa ating goal na makapag-test ng 30,000 tests kada araw ngayong July (We are very close to our goal of 30,000 a day this July)," Dizon said.

Magalong, for his part, said they will radically change the structure of the contact tracing system to improve efforts to track down those with potential infection.  He said health workers and law enforcement personnel will be trained for contract tracing. They also intend to implement a contact tracing e-system, a geographical information system to evaluate the extent of the infection, and analytic tools.

Villar said they intend to build 50 more quarantine facilities in the next three weeks to augment more dedicated beds for patients. At least 52,223 isolation beds are so far available in various quarantine centers built across the country.

"Sa ngayon po ay madadagdagan pa dahil may kausap pa kaming mga local governments at magbibigay din sila ng area para sa pagtatayo ng additional centers (At present, that will increase because we have talked to local governments who offered their areas for the establishment of additional centers)," he said.

He said there will be huge addition to the capacity for treating COVID patients as the government we will ramp up the building of quarantine facilities to control the spread of the pandemic.

To improve treatment of patients, Vega said the government's immediate steps include the expansion of hospital capacity by increasing COVID bed allocations, providing additional health care personnel even for private hospitals, and augmenting supplies for public and private hospitals.