MANILA, Philippines, July 15 ------ The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday underscored the need to shorten the country’s turnaround time for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing, but this must be coupled with “speedy” contact tracing. The ideal time for results of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to be out is only 24 hours so as to initiate contact tracing immediately thereafter if the result is positive, according to WHO Representative to the Philippines Rabindra Abeyasinghe.
“The shorter the period is, the earlier the contact tracing and suppression measures can happen,” Abeyasinghe said during a media forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines. As of July 10, the average turnaround time for PCR test results was 50 hours, while it was 24 to 48 hours with the GeneXpert tests. Abeyasinghe emphasized that testing should be coupled with stronger contact tracing and isolation. He said the information gathered in contact tracing, such as the “events and avenues where people are getting infected,” should be shared with the public so they can take measures on their own to avoid these “avenues and situations.”
If well informed, he said the public could also adopt behaviors to protect themselves. “In countries where testing and quarantining facilities (are) of good standard, we see that testing results are available within a few hours, and this is followed by rapid identification of contacts and quarantining and isolation and for the testing,” he maintained. By increasing the testing and contact tracing capacity, it is only expected to see many cases, according to the WHO official.
What is worrisome, however, is the “very increasing” positivity rate, from 6.5 two weeks ago to the current 7.7 percent as of Monday, he said. Positivity rate pertains to the percentage of individuals who test positive for the virus. “It is continuing transmission, so it is also reflected by the increased number of admissions that happen in a hospital,” Abeyasinghe said.
1 M COVID tests surpassed
Meanwhile, the government has surpassed its target of one million COVID-19 tests and is on its way to its target of 10 million tests by June next year, National Action Plan against COVID-19 deputy chief implementer Vince Dizon announced yesterday. “It will be remembered that this is the target we set last month. Now, we haven’t even reached half of July, yet we have exceeded one million,” Dizon, concurrent chair of the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA), said in a statement. “But it’s still not enough; it’s just a start. It’s reflective of the challenges that we face in the first couple of months, and with the work that the Department of Health has done in the past months, our testing capacity is already high,” he said as he thanked all Metro Manila mayors for their efforts.
Dizon noted that “as of July 12, there are 85 testing laboratories nationwide from only one in February, which will further ramp up the country’s testing capacity, along with the government’s aggressive implementation of the Test, Trace, Isolate and Treat strategy.” “The Philippines is also fast approaching its target to conduct 30,000 tests per day by the end of July, with 25,000 tests conducted daily as of July 9, from 561 tests conducted per day in March,” he said. “Let’s just go on. With the help of local government units and the private sector, we must boost more our testing capacity because this is the only way for us to track down those afflicted in our communities and isolate them to prevent the contagion and slow down the spread of COVID-19,” he added.