COVID-19 contact tracing relies on cops’ skills

Published July 17, 2020, 3:56 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Friday stressed the importance of the investigative skills of policemen in the government’s contact tracing efforts to fight the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Gen. Archie Francisco Gamboa (PNP / MANILA BULLETIN)

Police General Archie Francisco Gamboa, PNP Chief, said they will “actively” assist health authorities in tracing confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the communities through the implementation of “Oplan Kalinga.”

“The immediate concern is to isolate all confirmed cases in quarantine facilities and identify all persons with whom the patient has come in close contact,” Gamboa said.

“Information provided by the patient during testing and subsequent information of close contacts are crucial to make the entire effort work. This is where the investigative skills of the police (officers) come in handy,” he added.

The police chief said the house to house initiative of the cops to find COVID-19 patients in the communities –with the guidance of health workers — is “largely within the public safety function of the police.”

“Although government’s contact tracing capability for COVID-19 patients or carriers has improved to as much as 96 percent nationwide, we cannot be complacent with the four percent variance because this can surge exponentially before we know it,” Gamboa said.

“If only we can isolate all tested individuals, without violating their individual rights, until such time that test results are known, then we have already solved half the problem of finding these confirmed cases. But this is not the case because results are known long after the patient has left the testing facility,” he stated.

Gamboa said some restrictions in the Data Privacy Law affects the contact tracing capability of the government.

He said that in the National Capital Region (NCR) where a big bulk of confirmed cases were found, the contact tracing efficiency is only 76 percent and is similarly lower than the national average in other areas.

As such, Gamboa welcomes the “invaluable help” of Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, a retired police officer, for introducing a “contact tracing ecosystem” developed from a partnership between health workers and police public safety specialists.

“I am confident that through this significant change in the country’s contact tracing system, we can further improve our capability and eventually win over COVID-19,” Gamboa said.

The national government has launched Oplan Kalinga which seeks to trace and transfer asymptomatic and mild COVID-19 patients from their homes to government isolation facilities to prevent the spread of the disease in the communities.

The move was initially criticized after it was learned that the police will conduct house-to-house visits to fetch the patients, which critics claimed was similar to the bloody “Oplan Tokhang” anti-illegal drug operations where cops visit the houses of drug suspects to profile and encourage them to surrender.

However, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque allayed public fears as he explained that the Oplan Kalinga program will be led by health workers and the police officers will only act as a support force.