A Department of Health official said on Wednesday the country cannot “remain in lockdown forever” amid criticism that it was premature to revert Metro Manila back to the General Community Quarantine (GCQ).
“You know, even the experts are saying it is not just community quarantine which is the only intervention to fight COVID-19,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told ANC in an interview.
Based on studies conducted by the country’s economic managers, Vergeire said if the country continues to be placed under lockdown, a lot of people will go hungry and certain diseases will become evident.
“The government has to balance between health and economics because economics also has health impacts,” she said.
Vergeire assured the public that the government has safeguards in place so that even if quarantine measures are eased it will still be able to “somehow contain the transmission” of the virus.
Among these safeguards are the granular lockdowns and strict implementation of minimum health standards.
“There are now stricter monitoring for the enforcement of these minimum health standards that every individual and every family should know (and impose) upon themselves that they are part of that responsibility of containing this transmission,” she said.
The two-week modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) has given the government time to recalibrate its strategies, according to Vergeire.
“We have gone down, and we have met with the priority areas in the country, in Metro Manila and the other provinces nearby,” Vergeire said.
“When we went down to these different localities, we were able to see what was happening on the ground,” she added.
Vergeire said that during the two-week time out, the government “primed” the system so that the local government units will follow suit.
Among the efforts done by the government include the strengthening of the referral system through the One Hospital Command, and improving contract tracing.
According to the DOH official, the local governments in Metro Manila will work on a 1 is to 10 or 1 is to 20 contact tracing ratio.
“In the past, only three to four persons were being traced for every individual who turned out to be positive or those individuals who were suspects or probable,” Vergeire said.
Vergeire said the government is “looking at increasing” the number of persons being traced in the next few weeks.
The national government has also started the distribution of face masks to indigent families.
“The procurement has been done for the face masks already and I think they have started distributing through the Office of the Civil Defense and the goal is to provide face masks to our indigent families and also face shields,” Vergeire said.
“The initial target was 20 million face masks to be distributed to this sector of the population. This will be on top of what is being provided by the local government units. This is coming from the budget of the national government,” she added.
‘Rapid antibody test policy’
Vergeire said that anti-rapid body tests cannot tell whether a person has the coronavirus or not.
“This cannot be used for screening because the anti-rapid body tests will give you or show you the development of antibodies,” she said.
The health undersecretary said the DOH has already included in its protocol that anti-rapid body test “should not be a stand-alone test and should not be used for screening.”
Vergeire said the DOH is eyeing to release omnibus guidelines for the different testing methodologies by early next week if they are able to finish the series of consultations with LGUs and the medical societies.
“In the omnibus guidelines, we will be explaining the timing of the test, the type of test to be used, and what will be the accurate results for these tests,” she said.
‘Mass testing of employees discouraged’
The DOH official also discouraged “mass testing” for employees using the anti-rapid body test.
“The anti-rapid body testing cannot take the place of the real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) test, that’s why when we issued the return to work protocol, we emphasized that it should just be symptomatic based screening,” she said.
“Meaning, when they do the screening every day or upon the resumption of work, they have to check all those individuals or employees who have symptoms and they have to isolate them and test them,” she added.
Those who, upon going back to work, exhibit symptoms will likewise have to be isolated and tested, according to Vergeire.
Vergeire said the DOH recommends a symptoms-based approach in the monitoring of employees.