(Photo grabbed from UST College of Science official Facebook page)

PROPER contact tracing within targeted lockdowns and testing of returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) should contain the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, UST researchers said.

“The strategy that the government is using which is targeted lockdowns is the way to go, but they have to do a lot more contact tracing in the barangays that are locked down,” Fr. Nicanor Austriaco O.P. said during the webinar “Perspectives on the Pandemic” hosted by the UST College of Science.

Identifying hotspots that need to be quarantined and monitoring the movement people would be better than putting the entire National Capital Region under lockdown, Austriaco said.

“You have areas where social distancing is not practical because of the poverty of the people, and we have to be very sensitive to that challenge,” he said.

Austriaco also stressed the need to properly test returning OFWs before they head to their home provinces, to prevent the “leakage” of the virus especially in regions with no recorded cases of infection.

“[OFWs] were not tested properly, so they go to their home provinces with the virus, which is why there are now provinces in several islands in the Visayas that only got their first case in the last few weeks,” he said.

Austriaco attributed the difficulty in controlling the pandemic to delays in shutting down the country’s borders to Chinese travelers back in March, due to “political reasons.”

“There are estimates that every day you delay the lockdown a week longer at the other side that you have to worry about getting the numbers down. Any delay at the beginning would have caused issues that we are having today,” he said.

Echoing Austriaco, Assoc. Prof. Bernhard Egwolf recommended the increase in testing capacities as well as tracking measures.

“Whenever somebody is tested, they have to interview that person, ask who are the contacts in the previous days, and then track them down and test all of them,” he said.

Egwolf stressed that because many people were going outside of general community quarantine areas, mitigating measures have become more important.

“It’s more important to track people more quickly because if there’s more mobility, there’s also a chance the virus can spread faster. Tracking is one of the most important things now,” he said.

Austriaco said he and Egwolf were modifying their UST CoV-2 model to incorporate a “vaccine compartment” that would model the Philippines’ geography and population to determine vaccine distribution once available.

He said the challenge after finding a vaccine would be giving “optimized equal access” to the people and not allowing it to be hoarded by the rich.


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