THE Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has asked Senate leaders to include in the Bayanihan 2 bill a P50-billion budget for contact tracing efforts, including the hiring of 50,000 more contact tracers.

DILG Secretary Eduardo Año said he made the request in a letter sent to Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri.

At present, the DILG has hired 85,000 contact tracers who have been grouped into 7,000 teams.

Año said they need 50,000 more contact tracers in order to meet the World Health Organization recommended ratio of one contact tracer for every 800 people.

“With a projected population of 108 million this year, we need 50,000 more contact tracers to attain the ideal number of 135,000 contact tracers to pursue quick and credible tracing of close contacts of confirmed Covid-19 patients,” he said.

The funds that DILG is seeking will be used for the training and compensation of the contact tracers as well as for their operational expenses starting September.

The proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act is being finalized by a bicameral conference committee. The final bill will be submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte for approval.

Año noted that Baguio City Mayor Benjie Magalong, who is the country’s contact tracing czar, has recommended that a contact tracer locate at least 37 close contacts of a patient to cut transmission of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

“We are racing against time. Every single second counts and the longer we fail to expand our contact tracing capacity, the higher the probability that the virus spreads to more communities. We, therefore, need more contact tracers urgently to break the chain of transmission of this virus,” he added.

DILG Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said the hiring of contact tracers will be facilitated by the DILG regional offices with the help of the DILG provincial, city and municipal offices, which will screen the applicants.

Under the DILG’s proposal, the minimum qualification standards for a contact tracer are: graduate of a bachelor’s degree on allied medical courses or criminology; one-year relevant experience; and four hours of relevant training.

He said they will also prioritize the hiring of government contractual workers whose contracts were not renewed due to Covid-19 budget realignments, returning overseas Filipino workers whose employment has been disrupted, and local company workers whose services were recently terminated.

Malaya said second priority will be given to those who have completed at least two years of medical or criminology-related courses provided they have the relevant training and experience.

Of the 50,000 contact tracers who will be hired, 20,000 will be deployed in Luzon, 15,000 in the Visayas, and 15,000 in Mindanao.

“If need be, more contract tracers will be assigned to Metro Manila and other hotspots,” said Malaya. (SunStar Philippines)