Gov't names more anti-coronavirus czars as cases rise

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From L-R: national COVID-19 task force chief implementer Carlito Galvez, Jr.; BCDA President Vince Dizon, Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 13) – Three more officials have been named part of the government's elite squad leading the local COVID-19 fight, branded as "czars" for contact tracing, isolation and treatment amid rising infections.

Malacañang bared on Monday the appointment of Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong as the country's tracing czar, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar as isolation czar, and Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega as treatment czar. They join national COVID-19 task force chief implementer Carlito Galvez, Jr. and testing czar Vince Dizon as "Philippine anti-COVID czars" at the forefront of the battle against the coronavirus.

The fresh appointments came as the Philippines continued to see rising infections in the last four months under quarantine, with numbers seeing a spike the past few days.

There are now 56,259 positive cases in the country, with 2,124 new cases tallied on Sunday. Some 16,046 patients have recovered while 1,534 died. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said cases have doubled in other parts of the world, but can still be controlled.

"To effectively manage COVID-19, more of the responsibility shifts to the LGU, to the private company, and to the individual citizens... Ang aming hinihingi sa ating mga mamamayan ay magkaroon po tayo ng displina [We are asking the people to have discipline]," Galvez said during the briefing.

Dizon said the country is on track to hit 1 million tested individuals in the coming days, with the tally at 978,651 tests as of Saturday, July 11. Daily tests have been averaging 25,000 with 85 laboratories now running.

The goal is to test 10 million people by 2021, he added, noting that more "frontliners" such as policemen, barangay officials, waiters, security guards, and cashiers will be included in the state's expanded testing protocols. New rules will be released soon by the Department of Health for this, Dizon said.

READ: Proposed IATF rules seek quarterly COVID-19 tests for returning workers

Meanwhile, Magalong said "radical" changes will be made to the current contact tracing protocols used by the Department of the Interior and Local Government, which will employ technology used in Baguio which has been touted as a success. Tracers will be trained for cognitive interviewing that will let patients recall who they interacted with, while digital data collection and analytics tools will also be employed.

Doctors and nurses are preferred as contact tracers, but Magalong said retired investigators and ex-intelligence personnel would also be a good fit. New tracers will have to undergo training to have an "investigative mindset."

RELATED: DILG to hire 50,000 contact tracers in July, Roque says

For his part, Villar added that his agency is building 50 new quarantine facilities including in Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Northern Mindanao, and Soccsksargen apart from 129 existing regional evacuation centers. This is on top of the 52,223 available isolation beds for suspected or confirmed cases.

Among confirmed patients, Vega added that there's been a rise in hospital bed occupancy as well as the use of mechanical ventilators. The goal now is to push hospitals, especially state-run facilities, to cater to more patients especially when infections surge in a specific area.

OPINION: The Philippine health care system was never ready for a pandemic