A simple strategy: Trace, test, treat.


    IT’S April Fools Day (and the birthday of a good friend, Atty Ariel Salvador Hinal Magno) and yet this is no time for more pranks or for jokes. We are already suffering, in a manner unprecedented in recent memory, because some key people in positions of authority took the coronavirus threat as, well, a joke.

    Principal among them is the Secretary of Health who, early on, kept dismissing the need for a travel ban especially on Chinese visitors, and who, early on, kept reassuring the public that we had enough test kits and all you needed to do was drink some concoction to beat back COVID.

    Now more people have died from COVID than from the Maguindanao or Mamasapano tragedies. And soon that number will be more than the latter two, combined.

    Now anyone who wants to earn the honor to die for this country should volunteer for the frontlines sans protective equipment and without the benefit of the highly valued test kits. Any takers?

    It’s been 60 or so days since the WHO declared the COVID a global health emergency. It’s been 65 or so days since China locked down Wuhan and Hubei. It’s been 75 days since China’s expert epidemiologist said that the virus was transmissible between humans. And yet …it seems the Philippines has no clear STRATEGY for combating this invisible enemy.

    I propose a simple one: Trace, Test, Treat. And repeat.

    Trace. One of Singapore’s critical steps in its early and decisive attempt to control the spread of the virus within its territory was to carefully trace each and every contact of each and every COVID suspect. This is how it was able to identify the church group as a cluster and clamp down on it. And the tracing was made public so the public was aware and could on their own take the necessary precautions.

    Here? The last matrix we saw was on Manila paper and included Jollibee.

    Test. Because the virus could be in people who are asymptomatic, how can we effectively shut down transmissions when we don’t know because we don’t test? Once an asymptomatic person encounters someone who is vulnerable, that’s a tragedy waiting to happen. So when South Korea decided to focus on one city, Daegu, that was the source of its initial outbreak it wasted no time in testing as many citizens in that city as possible in order to understand just where the virus was.

    Treat. This is where our frontliners come in, and the area that is most burdened at the moment. While more than 80%, even 90% of COVID positives will be suffering from mild symptoms and will eventually recover, they, too, ideally need regular medical attention at medical facilities. That’s why China built special hospitals in Wuhan for this. But we don’t have enough, not for COVID, unless we want to convert all our hospitals to COVID-only facilities. So treatment facilities are reserved for the most serious of cases. The rest have to stay home and hope they don’t infect others.

    It’s not that we didn’t lack in suggestions. Early on, for example, I suggested that the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Diliman would be an ideal COVID Center – it has an expansive compound, its rooms are laid out in pavilions and not within an air-conditioned high rise, and it is close to the Lung Center where you have experts in respiratory illnesses. Others suggested Quezon Institute on E Rodriguez as another option, and I even suggested the World Trade Center in Pasay as the quarantine area for those with mild to modest cases not needing ICU admission.

    But what are suggestions when they come late in the game, when critical times has been lost especially in the early days when Government pussyfooted despite all the warning signs and red flags being raised? When people have died – some, we are told, who should feel honored to have died for the country? — and many are yet to die?

    What are suggestions from individual citizens and groups if there is no leadership despite all the powers at Government’s command?

    Trace. Test. Treat. Repeat. No need to spell that out, yes?


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