The Department of Health (DoH) expressed optimism Wednesday that it can slow down the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) with the imposition of the two-week stricter lockdown in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
“We have looked at the data and while the cases are rising, we are confident that they can be contained effectively and efficiently during this two-week period of MECQ (modified enhanced community quarantine) or timeout,” said DoH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire during an online forum.
Vergeire said that they are now in constant communication with other government agencies, the medical community, and other stakeholders to make an “updated strategy” in response to the current health crisis.
“We need to fully embrace the whole of nation approach, hence, the DoH and also in coordination with government and non-government partners will present to the public an updated strategy to guide our COVID-19 response by Aug. 8,” she said.
Vergeire said that they are now “expediting” the hiring of human resources for health (HRH) in priority areas such as the National Capital Region (NCR), Calabarzon, Central Luzon, and Cebu.
“The Centers for Health Development with few COVID-19 cases have committed to share their HRH to augment the areas with increasing number of cases, specifically here in the National Capital Region, Region 4-A, Cebu, and Region 3,” she added.
The Health official said that they also need to “fully implement CODE protocol to effectively crush clusters of infection.”
The DoH said that the key components of CODE or the Coordinated Operations to Defeat the Epidemic are community engagement activities to promote preventive behaviors; house-to-house symptom checks as a means of active case finding; testing by RT-PCR of those with symptoms, and assist those that require quarantine and isolation.
“We need more efficient ways for localized lockdowns so that we don’t go back to the ECQ we had before. We need to actively find the cases and eliminate clusters of infections. Active case finding means systematic screening and clinical evaluation of patients in the community,” explained Vergeire.
“We will not wait for patients to come to the system, we will find them. Eliminating clusters means preventing starting points of local outbreaks to join and grow by keeping them isolated,” she added.
During the forum, former DoH Secretary Manuel Dayrit likened the Philippine situation to the board game “Snake and Ladders.”
“We were able to build our laboratory capacity for lab analysis but if you don’t have enough contact tracers, if you have not been able to isolate, the head of the snake is gonna bring you down,” he said.
“That’s what actually happened to us. It’s the snakes and ladders phenomenon. That’s why we have to grow our capacities in a balanced way,” he added.
Dayrit said that authorities need to get “data on new cases as quickly as possible” to curb the spread of the infection.
“Within a day or two and get cities/ municipalities to focus on preventing clusters from occurring there. That’s the secret to control (cases). We have to do the fundamental things well — testing, contact tracing, isolation,” he said.
“When LGUs (local government units), national government, private sector, work together and identify those new cases and clamp down on the clusters, you will stamp the epidemic or slow it down,” he added.
He noted that Thailand has been able to flatten their COVID-19 curve because “they were able to test, contact trace, (and) isolate very well.”
“Vietnam did not even allow its outbreak to increase at all because they clamped down early on when they heard China had an epidemic. But you see, the virus is very treacherous that Vietnam has had an increase (in cases now),” he said.