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Contact trace!

Despite the country having been dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic for more than a year, contact tracing czar Benjamin Magalong admitted in a recent House inquiry that contact tracing has “largely deteriorated” in the past four weeks.

The contact tracing czar, who somehow kept his post even after having offered his irrevocable resignation shortly after being caught in a high profile party a couple of months ago, presented data showing that the national average of contacts traced for every patient dropped to 1:3 from March 15 to 29, from 1:7 from February 28 to March 14.

“For the past four weeks, you can see that contact tracing largely deteriorated,” Magalong told lawmakers. “Only members of the household are being contact traced. So, technically, there’s no contact tracing.”

Additional data showed that contact tracing dropped in 10 regions and was only improved or sustained in six regions. Caraga was the only region that traced the most contacts per patient, but even then, it only traced seven contacts for every patient from March 15 to 29 – a far cry from the target set by government of tracing 30-37 close contacts of patients in urban areas and 25-30 in rural areas.

Magalong, who like most anti-Covid czars who have, over the past year, proven their positions safe despite their meager contributions to the government’s largely ineffective response to the pandemic, blamed the inefficiency of contact tracing on local governments failing to use the uniform data collection tool and failing to go beyond first generation contacts. He added that many of those trained for contact tracing did not relay what they learned to their local governments, while local governments did not use contact tracing analytical tools and did not collaborate with uniformed personnel for contact tracing.

Moreover, the digital information management systems of the government, Covid Kaya and Tanod Covid, do not support contact tracing and that data of close contacts are not properly encoded.

According to the World Health Organization, contact tracing, along with robust testing, isolation, and care of cases, is supposed to be a key strategy for containing the transmission of Covid-19. That the Philippines still cannot get any of those strategies right after an entire year would explain the debilitating surge in Covid cases threatening to collapse its already fragile health care system.

The contact tracing czar is right. Data show that our contact tracing efforts are failing. He won’t lose his job but many will lose their lives to Covid-19 and a collapsing health care system if we don’t take it upon ourselves to do it right.

Let us not wait for another damning report on the state of contact tracing in this country. Let’s get to work.*

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