Govt. must beef up telemedicine, revisit travel restrictions amid COVID-19 surge, says health reform advocate

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 15) – The government must put more effort in ramping up COVID-19 health services, partcularly telemedicine and outpatient care, to help ease the burden on the healthcare system amid soaring cases of infections, a health reform advocate said.

"The thrust of the government should be more on the outpatient and the telemedicine to augment the medical force seeing mild cases and provide them with medical supplies and instructions," Dr. Tony Leachon told CNN Philippines.

With this, he said Filipinos will no longer see the need to visit hospitals if they have mild symptoms, which are common with the more infectious Omicron variant.

Leachon also suggested deputizing fourth year medical students and interns to help licensed doctors handle and monitor patients with mild symptoms, citing the difficulty in booking telemedicine appointments and the importance of prescribing medicine at the right time.

Revisit travel restrictions?

Leachon, a former special adviser to the National Task Force on COVID-19, urged the national government to revisit the travel restrictions especially in the provinces, where cases are also rising.

Prior to the announcement of Alert Level 3 in Metro Manila and the addition of other areas, he called for the imposition of Alert Level 4 to prevent the virus from spreading outside the region.

"Alert Level 4 may be important sa areas na hindi kasing prepared ng NCR,: he said. "Ang problema kasi sa Alert Level 3, there is inter-zonal travel eh. Ngayon kung magde-declare ang isang province na wala munang magbibiyahe dito, eh bakit naman hindi? Ang ayaw mo nga na makapasok sila eh."

[Translation: Alert Level 4 may be important for areas not as prepared as NCR. The problem with Alert Level 3 is there is inter-zonal travel. Now if one province declares no one can enter first, why not? You don't want them to enter.]

He said the tighter restrictions will give provinces time to prepare their healthcare system for the increase in cases.

Leachon also asked the government to provide support for hospitals in the provinces, which are not as equipped as the ones in NCR.

He also appealed to authorities to reconsider its decision to allow returning Filipinos coming from high-risk countries.

Country has not yet seen peak of surge

Leachon believes the country has yet to see the peak of the COVID-19 surge because of the record-breaking number of daily cases, active cases and high positivity rate.

"I cannot see yung sinasabi nilang we're actually reaching the peak eh," he argued. "Tingin ko nasa acceleration phase pa tayo. Kaya lang in different stages of the epidemic curve yung iba. Manila may be reaching the peak pero the other areas, magsisimula pa lang doon sa epidemic."

[Translation: I cannot see what they are saying that we're actually reaching the peak. I think we are still at the acceleration phase. However, we're just in different stages of the epidemic curve. Manila may be reaching the peak, but other areas are still starting in the epidemic curve.]

Leachon likened the current surge to chickenpox, wherein the infection starts in the chest and spreads to other parts of the body. He said other provinces will start to feel the increase soon, especially those with low vaccination rates.

The Philippines recorded 39,004 new cases on Saturday, breaking its highest single-day tally and number of active infections anew. Active cases are now at 280,813 which is 8.9% of the total count.