Hours after the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Dieseases (IATF) recommended easing community quarantine protocols in Metro Manila, the Department of Health said Thursday the country posted 539 new cases, the country’s highest single-day tally.
The DOH’s disclosure came ahead of a scheduled address to the nation by President Rodrigo Duterte Thursday night to announce the shift from a modified enhanced community quarantine to a general community quarantine (GCQ) for Metro Manila.
Thursday’s record surpassed the 538 cases reported on March 31.
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Of the total number of new cases, the National Capital Region accounted for 61 percent or 330 cases.
On Tuesday, the country recorded 350 new cases. The figure went up to 380 on Wednesday.
The DOH attributed the sudden spike in the number of new cases to the results from the swab tests on repatriated overseas Filipino workers, calling it an “artificial rise.”
However, repatriated OFWs only accounted for about 10 percent or 55 cases out of Thursday’s total number.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergerei, meanwhile, said a backlog of 3,683 test results would be reduced to zero in two to three days.
Testifying in the hearing of Senate health committee, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the backlog was 5,700 test results, but Vergerei said this had already been reduced.
She attributed the backlog to the lack of laboratory supplies, especially those coming from international suppliers.
She said there were some laboratories that encountered supply problems such as the Bicol laboratory because of a typhoon.
The Lung Center of the Philippines, she said, was back to its full capacity only this week after it also faced supply problems.
Vegerei said they met with laboratories last Monday and instructed them to reduce the backlog in two to three days as ordered by the Office of the President.
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At present, she said the country has 43 COVID-19 laboratories, 23 of which are public.
Also, in the same hearing, Duque defended the DOH from tirades that it was slow in approving laboratories for COVID-19 testing.
He maintained the DOH has been very strict in proficiency testing.
But Vergerei said the government is continuously ramping up the country’s COVID-19 testing capacity.
She also said the country would need more than P11.7 billion to hire and retain enough contact tracers for the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
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“When we computed and considered the proposed qualifications of contact tracers, we saw that we would need P11.7 billion in three months,” she said.
“We have an existing 38,000 plus contact tracers. And we still need 95,000 plus contact tracers,” she added.
She the Philippines would need more than 120,000 contact tracers to meet the goal set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Earlier, the DOH said the ideal ratio set by the WHO is one contact tracer for every 800 people in the country.
Contact tracers are the ones who track down close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases, ensuring that suspect cases are isolated and tested.
Ideally, she said, contact tracers should be from the medical profession like a nurse or an “allied medical professional” or at least a graduate or undergraduate of an “allied medical course.”
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Contact tracers are expected to do data gathering, interviews and health assessment of contacts and health education.
Vergeire said they are already discussing the hiring of more contact tracers with the Department of Interior and Local Government.
“We are expecting that DILG will be the ones to manage this so their local government units can hire and train contact tracers since they will also be the ones using them,” she said.
Vergeire said the doubling time of COVID-19 cases was now at seven days, an improvement over the two to three days at the start of the pandemic.