Philippines revises Covid-19 response amid biggest surge in cases

MANILA – The Philippines is revising its testing, isolation and contact-tracing policies, as it continues to pivot towards a “living with Covid-19” approach amid an explosive outbreak of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

“Blanket testing” is no longer the norm, as the government instead adopts “sentinel surveillance”, said Dr Edsel Salvana, an epidemiologist and adviser to the Health Ministry.

Those who come in contact with someone with Covid-19 are no longer required to get themselves tested if they are fully vaccinated and only displaying mild symptoms or not showing any signs of an infection at all.

They will have to undergo quarantine or isolation, albeit for a shorter period. 

The focus of testing is now on the elderly, health workers and those especially vulnerable to Covid-19.

“Testing shall now be optional for community-level actions,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.

Dr Salvana said that blanket testing “is not sustainable” with infections skyrocketing.

The Philippines is battling its biggest surge in Covid-19 infections with cases soaring from less than 500 on Dec 25 to more than 30,000 in recent days.

On Friday (Jan 14), the number hit a record 37,207.

The Philippines, with more than 3.1 million cases reported so far, is the second-worst hit country for Covid-19 in South-east Asia, after Indonesia.

As Omicron tears through capital Manila, and elsewhere, health officials have had to review their policies.

“The updated policies of the Philippines attempts to find acceptable standards, given our current context, and allow more flexibility to groups and sectors that can strictly implement infection, prevention and control procedures,” said Dr Vergeire.

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Isolation for those who are fully vaccinated and experiencing just mild or moderate Covid-19 symptoms has been shortened from 10 to just seven days.

The period of quarantine for “probable cases” – defined as those without symptoms but could likely have been infected through close contact – has been trimmed from seven to five days, unless they develop symptoms.


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