Proper screening

Proper screening

Filipinos continue returning en masse from different countries, most of them workers who lost their jobs abroad amid the coronavirus pandemic. Since the start of the community quarantine in mid-March, 221,275 overseas Filipinos have returned to the country. All of them were required to undergo 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

The Department of Health has reported that 211,540 of the returning Filipinos have been released from quarantine while 4,831 have tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019. Of that number, the DOH said 4,113 have recovered, 574 remain in hospital while five have died of COVID-19.

Another 1,796 Filipinos staying abroad have also tested positive, the DOH reported. The Department of Foreign Affairs, for its part, has recorded 9,692 confirmed COVID cases among Filipinos staying abroad.

Screening of all people entering the Philippines amid the pandemic, Filipinos and foreigners alike, must be stringent as the country grapples with community transmission of COVID-19. International flights are still limited so this is possible.

The global spread of COVID from the Chinese city of Wuhan has been attributed to international travel. In the Philippines, the belated ban on travelers from China gave the country its first COVID case on Jan. 30: a 38-year-old female Chinese tourist from Wuhan. Her male companion from Wuhan, the Philippines’ patient No. 2, died on Feb. 1 in Manila.

By March 7, the first case of local transmission was recorded. And by March 11, a 67-year-old woman with no history of overseas travel became the first Filipino to die of COVID.

These developments show the importance of screening travelers and subjecting them to proper testing and isolation. In the Philippines, local government executives have complained of recording their first COVID cases only after the arrival of locally stranded individuals from Metro Manila.

The DOH has stressed that detecting SARS-CoV-2 requires the “gold standard” reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction swab testing and not just the rapid test for the presence of antibodies. A positive swab test result must be followed by proper isolation for anyone who tests positive.

There is general agreement that the country needs to gradually reopen the economy. But reopening without the necessary measures to prevent the further spread of COVID can only spell disaster, for both the economy and public health.