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Contact tracing nightmares

The other night, during the weekly group video chat with my in-laws, I was listening to my father in law torture himself in his conversation with his other daughter who lives and works in Singapore.

He was asking my sister in law about the contact tracing app they use over there and it was agonizing to listen to her describe their first world contract tracing system as we compared it to what they have in Mandaluyong and what we have here in Negros.

To make a long story short, contrary to the promises of some politicos who vowed revolutionary change for this country around 5 years ago, the Philippines is still nowhere near Singapore.

They live a relatively normal life there by now while our newly confirmed COVID-19 cases are surging to its highest levels, highlighting the achievements of what is probably the world’s worst pandemic response after one full year.

Singaporeans have had their contract tracing app for the better part of the year while Filipinos still don’t have one yet. Every town and city has itsslapdash own solution that probably does not coordinate with each other. Take the case of the Metro Bacolod area, where there is the Bactrac QR code, the old-school logbook, and whatever solutions companies can slap together in order to protect their own employees from COVID at the same time, and comply with the ever-changing demands of the IATF.

Their contact tracing app notifies you if you were in contact with someone who tested COVID positive. Our contact tracing system is neither a system nor an app. It’s just attendance checking using smartphones that can scan a QR code. For this past year of existence in this quarantine-crazy country, nobody I know has ever been contacted by any contact tracing app or team.

In the classic Filipino way, we have been left to fend for ourselves, tracing our own contacts every time rumors of COVID-19 infections they may have had contact with pop up. Just make sure you wear a face shield when you do your own contact tracing and you’ll be fine.

Bacolod City is ever so slightly ahead of the curve with its Bactrac doohickey but other cities in the Metro Bacolod area haven’t even implemented anything of the sort. One year into a pandemic in the 2020’s yet most Filipinos still rely on archaic pen and paper logbooks where any Juan dela Cruz can enter 09123457890 as a telephone number and Barangay Dalum Paho as address. And even if the information they log are accurate, good luck to those who have to scour those hand written notes to trace contacts whenever anything notable occurs in those premises.

It’s probably too late to start a unified contact tracing system in this country, but our standards and expectations are so low by now that the government official or who that deploys one in the coming weeks, more than a year into the start of our series of lockdowns, will still probably expect a standing ovation.

Things are getting really bad in Metro Manila. PNP chief Debold Sinas tested positive for COVID last week. This week, ditto for Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. With our schizophrenic government unable to afford another lockdown because of the tanking economy, travel restrictions have already been eased. It won’t take long before the currently alarming rate of infection in select hotspots goes nationwide.

A unified contact tracing system might help but if our government is one year late, it might be another case of too little too late… just like the token delivery of donated vaccines that government officials are hyping as an achievement.

On the other hand, because mass vaccination is most probably not becoming a reality until Q3 2021, a better contact tracing system for all Filipinos might just help. We survived the first wave of 2020 without one, but this time, it looks like we will need all the help we can get as we prepare to retreat into our own personal lockdowns for God knows how long, once more, and hope to survive this epidemic of incompetence.*

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