From mitigation to containment: Why targeted testing is important in governments' COVID-19 measures

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 30)— Calls for widespread and targeted testing— not just in the Philippines, but other countries battling the COVID-19 pandemic— continue to surface as the number of cases keeps climbing worldwide.

The latest global tally from Johns Hopkins University showed there are now almost 3.2 million cases of the coronavirus disease in 185 different countries including China, where the outbreak began.

With infections showing no signs of stopping and a vaccine yet to be developed, health experts contend that mass testing— identifying and isolating clusters and cases— would prove to be one of the quicker, more efficient ways to help curb the spread of the viral disease.

Why is mass or targeted testing important? Where does the world stand in terms of containing the mysterious coronavirus?

CNN Philippines spoke to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent of CNN, to know more.

Still on the mitigation phase

Gupta explained that most places around the world are still under the "mitigation phase"— or only plainly dealing with the presence of the virus.

"Meaning we’re just dealing with the virus, we’re dancing with the virus, as some have described it, but it's all about trying to slow it down," Gupta said in an interview with The Source.

Several governments have imposed lockdowns and restrictions, with health frontliners throwing out the common "stay at home" line to citizens. Health experts have continuously reminded people to follow strict safety protocols including social distancing, constant wearing of face masks, and frequent handwashing and sanitizing, among others.

Measures, however, would have to be ramped up if countries seek to get to the "containment phase"— or identifying where the virus is spreading at the moment.

"Ultimately, we want to be in containment phase, and that means basically trying to put a box around the virus and contain it," Gupta said.

"In order to do that, you got to find the people who are infected, right away, they have to be isolated, and the people around them, their contacts, they have to be traced."

But how do countries achieve this? "The key to doing that is testing, you have to have the testing," the medical expert said.

With an invisible enemy, Gupta said it is impossible to know the entire coverage of the virus. Widespread testing, he said, would help identify areas which pose greater risks.

"Because it’s such a contagious virus, because people may not have many symptoms but can still spread it, that’s really important to know, just where are we dealing with," Gupta noted.

How the Philippines is faring in targeted testing

The Philippines' Health Department earlier targeted to improve daily testing capacity to 8,000 by the end of April, in an effort to catch up on the global COVID-19 measures. The agency later admitted that it may not achieve the goal, with the country currently sitting at a 4,900-daily testing capacity as of Wednesday.

READ: DOH scrambles to meet target COVID-19 testing capacity

Health Department Spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire, however, assured that the government is exhausting all its resources in order to reach the number in the coming days.

Malacañang, on the other hand, remained hopeful the country can soon achieve the goal of conducting 20,000 tests per day, with more subnational laboratories receiving accreditation.

On April 14, the Philippines rolled out its first wave of the "progressive" expanded testing, where high-risk patients have been prioritized. These are people showing severe flu-like symptoms; the elderly, those with pre-existing health conditions, and pregnant women with mild symptoms; and healthcare workers with respiratory symptoms.

More sectors will be covered as the country's testing capacity increases, DOH previously said.

Several local governments in various parts of the country have also implemented mass testing procedures for their constituents. Some private sector firms have also pledged to set up their own testing facilities for employees, in a bid to ramp up the country's capacity.

To date, the Philippines has recorded 8,212 cases of the infectious disease, including 1,023 recoveries and 558 fatalities.