All out fight vs surge with intensified random testing  

Published January 5, 2022, 12:03 AM

by Manila Bulletin

One of the tenets in the fight against COVID-19 and its variants is testing. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted “test, trace, isolate, and treat” as the necessary steps to stop the virus. Our own Department of Health (DOH) has also adopted these steps in some way, stressing the importance of testing among the population, especially to those arriving in the country from foreign lands with high cases.

The sudden spike of new cases after the New Year is an alarming situation. The doubling of cases and the high positivity rate in the National Capital Region (NCR) are a cause of concern. Public health experts, who lauded the government’s decision to elevate the alert to level three, are calling for more actions as the virus spread could still be controlled. Failure to do so at this early moment could have dire consequences, with some projecting a return to the disastrous 20,000 plus new cases a day, leading to more lockdowns and restrictions.

At this point in time, another enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) type of lockdown would redound negatively to businesses, and may permanently bruise the economy, the job market, and our viability as an investment destination.

Given this scenario, the government must do all it can – and use all its resources – to avert any catastrophic scenario where the majority of the population or medical frontliners are infected with COVID and its “spreadier” variant, Omicron. Almost two years worth of lessons must now be used. Vaccinations should be ramped up further to reach the young ones. Major events or gatherings must be stopped. And again, the mantra of wearing a face mask, washing of hands, and physical distancing must play all over media like a broken tune.

In a surge that the country is experiencing, the importance of testing can’t be stressed enough. The US Department of Health and Human Services, during the early peak of the pandemic, said that testing for COVID-19 is so important that it can “save lives.”  “Testing can help people determine if they are infected with the virus – regardless of whether they have symptoms – and whether they are at risk of spreading the infection to others. Taking measures to prevent the spread of infection will be the most effective strategy for getting us safely back to work and school.”

One of the strategies to further curb the virus spread is what health experts call “random testing,” which essentially means testing people arbitrarily in a certain location. Implemented in other countries such as the US, Japan, and New Zealand, this will now be done to MRT and LRT passengers according to the Department of Transportation (DOTr).

DOTr Secretary Art Tugade said that the random antigen testing, which will only be conducted on volunteering passengers, will help the agency “gauge the level of COVID-19 presence in the rail lines.”  “The random antigen testing of consenting and volunteering passengers is intended to guide us in the adoption of any further needed measures. Passengers who volunteer to be tested will be permitted to proceed with their trip after testing, and will be informed of their test results by text message.”

This random testing measure from the DOTr must not be the only testing of its kind to help curb the virus spread. Other agencies must follow suit or step up to complement the IATF and the DOH in instilling the importance of health protocols. The private sector must also assist the government in this crucial time by conducting their own random testing among their workers. For small and micro businesses, it would help if the government would provide affordable testing kits to them.

Health experts have said that the deadly peak of this “third wave” has not yet manifested. Looking at the projections, we may experience a gloomy month. But if everyone will cooperate, get themselves voluntarily tested if available, strictly follow health protocols, and encourage everyone in their community to get vaccinated or boosted, then the third wave’s peak may not arrive after all. We can cut its momentum today if we all work together. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but in this case, it takes a nation to beat a virus.