MANILA, Philippines – Targeted testing is a better use of the country’s resources on RT-PCR test, an official from the World Health Organization (WHO) said, following calls for mass testing amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.
With the exponential increase in cases in the country, WHO representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said that it would be more prudent “to reserve the testing capacity to test symptomatic people, especially symptomatic elderly and vulnerable people.”
“I think targeted testing is a better use of the resources on RT-PCR test and the hypothesis that if you have a confirmed case in a household and other people are asymptomatic, there is no need to confirm testing, just need to assume that it’s Omicron,” he said during a public briefing.
“On the other hand, it’s also not very useful in testing other asymptomatic people in a household once you have confirmed Omicron case in a household because of the higher transmissibility. They are very likely to get infected or would have already infected,” he added.
Abeyasinghe said that by testing asymptomatic people and the close contacts of COVID positive persons, “we are artificially driving up the positivity rate.”
“It would be far better to use the testing capacity to understand where is the transmission and use that to suppress further transmissions,” he added.
The current surge in the Philippines is believed to be driven by Omicron and Delta variants.
The Philippines on Wednesday logged 32,246 cases, 28,007 cases on Tuesday, and 33,169 last Monday.
But despite the surging cases, Abeyasinghe believes there is no need yet to escalate the alert levels being implemented.
The Philippines’ healthcare system can also manage until about January 27 or 28 if the current COVID-19 trends are maintained, he added.
“We are looking closely at the current Alert Level 3… we are seeing a significant reduction in mobility and if yesterday’s reduction in number is an indication maybe the current alert levels are adequate,” Abeyasinghe said.
“That red line analysis that we have done projects that we can manage the health systems to about the 27/28 of January. Given the trends up to yesterday, with yesterday’s decline, we may be even to manage beyond that,” he added.
Abeyasinghe said alert levels should only be increased if there are signs that the healthcare system is being overwhelmed.
“We are very conscious that we will need to increase those alert levels and increase the restrictions only if we see signs of the healthcare system being overwhelmed. Right now, we don’t see that,” he said.
Rather than further tightening restrictions, he urged the public to continue adhering to public health protocols, and immediately isolate themselves if they have symptoms to reduce the risk of transmission. Vaccination efforts should also be increased to protect people from hospitalization and severe diseases.