This undated photo shows health reform advocate Tony Leachon.
Tony Leachon, Facebook
Government ‘quite late’ in implementing contact tracing infra — Leachon
Bella Perez-Rubio ( - June 30, 2020 - 6:24pm

MANILA, Philippines — A former adviser to the National Task Force against COVID-19 on Tuesday expressed concern over the slow implementation of contact tracing efforts in the country.

At a forum hosted by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, Dr. Tony Leachon said "contact tracing infrastructure is quite late," given that the country has been under the longest coronavirus-induced quarantine period in the world.

"Right now I can tell you we are still in the [process of trying to boost] testing and contact tracing, that should have been started 100 days ago," Leachon said.

Leachon also called on the health department to clearly communicate with local officials as to how the pandemic should be handled, especially when it comes to contact tracing.

"The local government unit at any area of the country should have a blueprint right now, trying to consolidate all other best practices in some other regions.”

A representative of the World Health Organization in May warned the national government that its sluggish contact tracing efforts were hampering the country's progress against the novel coronavirus disease.

Dr. Socorro Escalante, WHO acting representative, said that contact tracing should begin once a suspect case visits a hospital instead of upon confirmation of lab results.

“By that time, we have already spread the infection to many people and that’s really very, very late,” said Escalante.

In his report to Congress on Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte said there are a total of 54,183 contact tracers in the country as of June 24.

The government previously announced that it was planning to spend P11.7 billion to hire 136,000 contact tracers for at least three months.

Virtual contact tracing

Former Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Undersecretary Eliseo Rio on June 10 warned the government against heavily depending on its official contact-tracing app StaySafe in battling the coronavirus pandemic.

In a Facebook post, Rio said he had to "break [his] silence" and reach out to the interagency task force (IATF) tackling the outbreak in the country to tell them that the government "would never be able to flatten this pandemic curve" if they will only rely on one app.

"Because [the app's] technology needs smartphones 3G and above capable, we still have millions of Filipinos using 2G phones," Rio explained in a text message when sought for more details.

"The app also need mobile internet connectivity, of which 40% of the country has no or poor connectivity," he added. 

The former undersecretary also claimed he was "eased out" of the DICT for pointing out the cons of using StaySafe in contact tracing efforts and the app's supposed weak data privacy features.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque denied these allegations, saying the president merely chose to accept Rio's resignation four months after it was issued.

The chief executive in his report to Congress said the StaySafe app's function is now "limited to data collection to be stored in the DOH's COVID KAYA Information System."

He added that 240 LGUs are using the app while the rest report directly to the health department through COVID KAYA.

The Department of Health on Tuesday logged a total of 37, 514 COVID-19 cases and a death toll of 1,266 in the country.

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