The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday said given the limited availability of test kits worldwide, it is necessary to implement a strategy on prioritizing who to test for coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-2019) infections.

“This is the challenge not only for the Philippines, even for developed countries which don’t have sufficient kits to test everybody,” WHO Western Pacific Region Covid-19 Incident Manager, Dr. Socorro Escalante said during a virtual media briefing on Tuesday morning (Manila time).

Escalante said from a clinical perspective, patients with severe symptoms or elderlies with underlying conditions are prioritized for the tests.

“But what’s important is test will be effectively used to identify case entry, but on top of that, to trace the contact and then quarantine,” she added.

WHO Western Pacific Region Covid-19 Incident Management Support Team Technical Advisor, Dr. Matthew Griffith said the seemingly high proportion of Covid-19 deaths in the country was due to the testing strategy employed by health authorities.

“Many people are seeing the proportion of cases in the Philippines as quite high but that’s because the Philippines has taken a testing strategy where they prioritize severe cases,” he said.

“So that’s one thing with respect to the high proportion of death in the Philippines but it’s in the way the Philippines decided to test. Strategically dictated by available re-agents and supplies and travel,” he added.

With more sub-national laboratories expected to become operational within the week, Griffith said testing is expected to increase “substantially” in the coming days.

As of 4 p.m. March 31, the Philippines has recorded 2,084 Covid-19 infected persons, 88 deaths, and 49 recoveries. There are 538 new cases.

Strict contact tracing, quarantine measures

WHO Western Pacific Regional Director, Dr. Takeshi Kasai said several Asian countries such as China, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore, have slowed down the transmission of the deadly disease by employing effective measures such as isolating the infected and quarantining their contacts.

“We have found common tactics in these countries. Those are finding, isolating, and testing case early. Tracing and collating contacts early, putting in place measures to put physical distance and stop transmission,” he said.

Kasai clarified that such measures would not eradicate the risks amid the pandemic but these “can give countries valuable time to prepare for large-scale community transmission”.

South Korea had been successful in slowing the spread of the disease by doing many tests. Taiwan’s measures against the pandemic was considered by experts as a “gold standard” — fast and early response as well as transparency.

While some Asian countries have been successful in containing the spread of the disease, Kasai said the epidemic is “far from over” in Asia and the Pacific.

“This is going to be a long-term battle. We can’t let down our guard. We need every country to keep responding according to the local situation. At the same time, we need every country to prepare for large-scale community transmission. If we want every country to respond, we need to do it together,” he said.

“And, we also have to find a way to make our societies get running again. Preparing for large scale community transmission must reach every corner to make sure nobody is left behind. For this, we need all local authorities and communities to be fully engaged,” he added. (PNA)

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