THE PHILIPPINES should limit RT-PCR tests to patients who show symptoms of the coronavirus especially the elderly and seriously ill people, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.
“Targeted testing is a better use of resources on RT-PCR tests,” WHO representative to the Philippines Rabindra Abeyasinghe told an online news briefing.
There is no need to confirm testing of household members living with a COVID-19-positive person as long as they don’t show symptoms, he said. “You just need to assume that it’s Omicron, because it’s milder. It’s more prudent to just isolate or quarantine as the case may be.”
Health advocates have asked the government to conduct free mass testing amid a fresh surge in coronavirus infections probably spurred by the highly mutated Omicron variant.
“It would not be necessary to test and confirm every infection unless of course you’re in vulnerable groups,” Mr. Abeyasinghe said.
The local healthcare system can manage coronavirus cases until about Jan. 27 or 28 if the third alert level is kept, he said.
“We are looking closely at the current Alert Level 3,” he said. “We are seeing a significant reduction in mobility. If yesterday’s reduction in numbers is an indication, maybe the current alert levels are adequate.”
People who show symptoms of the coronavirus should be isolated immediately to reduce transmission and the need for a stricter lockdown “because that has very serious economic consequences,” he added.
“We should try to help people live with this variant rather than locking down. It’s health and economy not health versus economy,” the WHO representative said.
The government should also boost vaccination to protect people from getting hospitalized, severe illness and death, he added.
The government aims to vaccinate as many as 90 million people by the end of the second quarter, vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. told a taped Cabinet meeting on Monday night. The government missed its goal last year of fully vaccinating at least 54 million people.
He also said more than 71 million adult Filipinos were expected to get booster shots against COVID-19 by the end of the third quarter. They will come from the projected 90 million fully vaccinated Filipinos by June.
Mr. Galvez cited a need to buy 17 million more booster doses this year, while 26 million lower doses were needed to inoculate children aged 5 to 11 years.
Meanwhile, 97 areas in Metro Manila covering 463 people were under a granular lockdown, according to the Interior and Local Government department.
Nationwide, 107 areas were under a targeted lockdown, affecting 679 people, Interior Undersecretary Jonathan E. Malaya told a televised news briefing.
Police and village law enforcers have been used to enforcing the granular lockdown, he said.
He said more than 700 policemen were guarding hotels where almost 19,000 international travelers were quarantined. Police have set up help desks in these hotels, which they guard round the clock.
At Monday’s Cabinet meeting, President Rodrigo R. Duterte said the state has a duty to restrain unvaccinated citizens from going out.
“We have every right to restrain them,” he said. “We cannot wait for a law,” he added, noting that Congress was on recess and passing a bill would take time.
Mr. Duterte urged the public anew to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. — Norman P. Aquino