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By JOHN CARLO M. CAHINHINAN

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian has urged the government to utilize K to 12 graduates as possible contact tracers amid the surge in coronavirus infections in the country.

Gatchalian, chair of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture, has suggested that K to 12 graduates can be tapped as contact tracers to avert the further spread of the COVID-19 virus as infection rate soared to more than 50,000 cases on Wednesday.

According to Gatchalian, employing K to 12 graduates as contact tracers “will be a boost to tracking down and isolating carriers of the virus,” especially now that lockdown measures are being gradually lifted.

Gatchalian added that his proposal will also give K to 12 graduates job opportunities and a relief from the economic brunt of COVID-19 pandemic.

“We will hit two birds with one stone: we give jobs to young people who are vulnerable at this time and we boost our efforts to contain the spread of the virus,” said Gatchalian.

Though the K to 12 program promises to boost the employability of its graduates, Gatchalian emphasized that the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic made employment opportunities dimmer for these new graduates who are also seeking jobs.

Last May, the Department of Health (DOH) announced that 94,000 contact tracers are needed to meet the ideal ratio of one per 800 people. According to the President’s 14th report to Congress on the implementation of the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, there are currently 54,183 members of contact tracing teams nationwide.

While the DOH requires contract tracers to be an allied medical professional or at least a graduate of an allied medical course, Gatchalian called for greater flexibility to accommodate K to 12 graduates.

He noted the case of the United States, where contact tracers are not necessarily college degree holders.

Because of school closures, the collapse of businesses, the loss of job opportunities that followed, and the emergence of obstacles to finding work, young people with ages ranging between 15 to 24-years old are being affected disproportionately by the COVID-19 pandemic, based on the figures released b the the International Labour Organization (ILO) last May.

The Philippine Statistics Authority’s January 2020 Labor Force Survey revealed that 16.9 percent of the youth population (15-24) are not in education, employment, and training. It went up to 25.3 percent by April 2020. The ILO also identified testing and tracing (T&T) as a potential employment opportunity that can be targeted for young people and other groups affected by the pandemic.

“Kung bibigyan natin ng trabaho bilang contact tracers ang ating mga kabataan, kabilang na ang ating mga K to 12 graduates, hindi lamang natin sila mabibigyan ng solusyon sa mga hamong kinakaharap nila,” said Gatchalian.

“Magiging bahagi rin sila ng mga solusyon upang makabangon ang ating bansa mula sa pinsalang dulot ng COVID-19,” he added.

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