THE Department of Health (DOH) yesterday warned the public against the presence of ruthless individuals posing as “contact tracers” in a bid to extort money from unsuspecting people amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
In an advisory, the DOH said the schemers call people at random and introduce themselves allegedly as representatives of the “DOH Contact Tracing Team.”
“We have received reports of citizens getting calls from certain individuals misrepresenting themselves as members of the ‘DOH Contact Tracing Team.’ They maliciously ask for personal information and extort money in the process,” said the DOH.
The agency said it does not have its own “contact tracing team” because it is the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) which is the lead agency in contact tracing activities.
“We condemn the perpetrators of these acts and warn the public against individuals who are taking advantage of this health crisis,” said the DOH.
It advised those who will be getting such calls not to give out their personal information, quickly end the call, take note of the number, and block it.
They are also urged the public to report the incident to DOH’s call center hotline, through telephone number (+632) 86517800 local 5003-5004 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The public is advised to be vigilant and not entertain these calls. Do not put your security at risk,” it stressed.
The DOH said it has already asked the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate the matter. “The DOH will take the appropriate legal action, as necessary,” it added.
President Duterte on Monday night advised local government units (LGUs) to tap the PNP and its assets to boost their contract tracing capabilities to locate and isolate people who are infected or had been exposed to COVID-19 patients.
The President, during a meeting with select members of the Cabinet and the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of emerging Infectious Diseases that he convened in Davao City, said apart from having the personnel to do contract tracing, the PNP also has vehicles that can be used especially in reaching areas that may be isolated or in remote locations.
He said contact tracing activities would also need to be financed by the government.
He said if the LGUs have the money, the vehicles and people to do the contact tracing themselves, the better.
“Pero kung wala, then the police has to sacrifice and contribute to the solution of the problem now (But if none, then the police has to sacrifice and contribute to the solution of the problem now),” he added.
The President said apart from tracking down those who are infected or had been exposed to people with COVID-19, the PNP can also help in transporting the patients to isolation facilities or hospitals.
INTENSIFIED CONTACT TRACING
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that after the Philippines had become the country with the most number of COVID-19 testing in the region due to its boosting of mass testing, the Philippines would compliment this by being the country with the most capable contact tracing system and most number of contact traced persons.
The government is using the model of Baguio City where it tracks down up to 37 persons that had been in contact with a person infected with COVID-19. Roque said the minimum number of persons to be tracked, however, will only be 10.
He said the government is also striving to have the most number of isolation facilities and hospital beds available.
Roque said with no face-to-face classes soon, the Department of Education is allowing the use of public schools as quarantine facilities at least until the end of the year.
DepEd said the opening of classes will be on August 24 but face to face classes would likely be done only in January if the situation already permits it.
Public Works Secretary and concurrent chief isolation czar Mark Villar said the public can expect an improvement in intensive care unit (ICU) capacity by next week with the completion of the 210 additional ICU bed capacity building of the East Avenue Medical Center (EAMC).
Villar said the expansion of the Quirino Medical Center, which will also provide an additional 50-bed integrated emergency room, 50-bed intensive care unit, and 30 beds for moderate cases, is also set to be completed soon.
He said isolation rooms in the Lung Center is likewise being converted to become a 20-bed ICU facility, while a modular health facility for moderate cases along with a dormitory complex is being built at the Quezon Institute. – With Jocelyn Montemayor