DILG to rehire only 15,000 out of 50,000 contact tracers due to budget constraints

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 16) — Most of the contact tracers hired by the government to augment the country’s COVID-19 response in 2020 have to go for now, as only a third of them can be employed this year due to budget limitations.

In a statement on Saturday, the Department of the Interior and Local Government said it will rehire 15,000 of the 50,000 personnel, whose contracts were terminated on Dec. 31. It said this is to sustain contact tracing efforts in the country in light of the entry of the new COVID-19 variant first discovered in the United Kingdom.

The mutated coronavirus, which has been found to be more contagious, was detected in a Quezon City resident who returned from a trip to the United Arab Emirates.

"Much as we would like to continue the services of all the 50,000 CTs hired in 2020, we need to have a more rational number of CTs and work within the available budget allotted to the Department,” DILG Undersecretary and Spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said.

“Hence, only 15,000 CTs will be rehired under a six-month contract in the meantime while we wait for the release of additional funds," he added.

The Budget Department approved a ₱1.9 billion budget for the hiring of contact tracers in 2021, ₱500 million of which will come from the 2021 national budget while the bulk will be from the unreleased balance under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act. The law, which allots a ₱165.5 billion budget for pandemic response and recovery, expired last year but another measure extended the availability of funds.

According to DILG guidelines, contact tracers are considered as contractual workers, earning a minimum of ₱18,784 per month.

The DILG has directed field offices and LGUs to select the contact tracers to be rehired based on performance.

LGUs with the highest active COVID-19 cases will have the most contact tracers. These are from Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and Central Visayas. The rehiring will start as soon as a Special Allotment Release Order or Notice of Cash Allocation is released, the DILG said.

The total number of contact tracers in the country now is unclear, but Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, the contact tracing czar, earlier said having 135,000 is enough to track the people who had interaction with COVID-19 patients.