Contact tracing impractical during widespread COVID-19 transmission

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 13) — Contact tracing would be a daunting task during widespread transmission of COVID-19 and more so with the threat of a highly contagious variant like Omicron, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.

“When there is a widespread community transmission and it is sustained, it’s impractical to do contact tracing. You’ll be wasting a lot of resources doing contact tracing when you know the cases are already on an upswing, accelerating, and more and more communities are being infected,” Duque told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

He added that contact tracers could just help in monitoring patients in home isolation or in vaccination activities.

“For example, monitoring of people in home isolation. Meron naman telepono [They can call] and find out how the person is. They can do symptom monitoring of those in home isolation or quarantine. They can also be used to help in the vaccination activities and several others, in health promotion,” said Duque.

The Department of Health also updated its protocol on COVID-19 testing, stating that close contacts of COVID-19 patients are not required to undergo testing unless they start exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

It added that health workers, senior citizens, and immunocompromised individuals should be prioritized for RT-PCR testing.

“Because of limited testing and also because some of our laboratory technicians are either in isolation or quarantine. So the testing output or capacity is reduced because of these circumstances. Therefore, the shift of policy is towards prioritizing the testing of A1 (medical frontliners), A2 (senior citizens), and A3 (persons with comorbidities) groups within the priority framework,” said Duque.

There are currently 43 Omicron cases detected in the country. World Health Organization country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe had said it is difficult to conclusively determine if Omicron is already the dominant variant in the country since it is sequencing too few samples.

The Philippines on Wednesday broke another COVID-19 record with 208,164 active cases. The country’s daily cases hit an all-time high on Monday with 33,169 new infections.