Philippines begins mass COVID-19 testing 

Special Philippines begins mass COVID-19 testing 
The Ninoy Aquino Stadium in Manila has been temporarily made into a quarantine facility to accommodate coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 April 2020

Philippines begins mass COVID-19 testing 

Philippines begins mass COVID-19 testing 
  • Priority goes to the critically ill and vulnerable, says DoH

MANILA: The Philippines on Tuesday started its mass COVID-19 testing, but not all Filipinos will be covered by the stepped-up screening program.

It is almost a month since President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a lockdown in Luzon, the country’s largest and most populous island that includes the capital, to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The number of nationwide cases was 5,233 as of Tuesday, with 291 new cases reported by the Department of Health. The death toll is 335, and 295 patients have recovered from the disease.
The department said the expanded testing program would be “progressive” using a risk-based approach.
“Our resources are not yet enough to do this,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire in a press conference on Monday, explaining that not all Filipinos would be covered by the mass screening.
She said priority would go to critically ill patients, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with underlying medical conditions, as well as health care workers displaying symptoms of the disease.
Vergeire said the department continued to increase its testing capacity, aiming to conduct 8,000 up to 10,000 tests each day.
Testing coverage would be expanded once there were enough kits and laboratories to include those who had no symptoms but were on the frontlines, those who had possible exposure to the virus, and people with a history of travel and with symptoms, she added.
“So it’s going to be evolving, it’s going to be progressive.”
There are 15 laboratories in the country that can conduct COVID-19 tests. But the department said it was facilitating the approval of 28 institutions that were undergoing a laboratory certification process, while a further 37 had expressed their intent to be certified.


The Department of Health said there are 15 laboratories in the country that can conduct COVID-19 tests.

In a late night address to the nation on Monday, Duterte ordered the immediate purchase of rapid test kits to increase the country’s capability to detect cases. He gave the directive despite a lack of guidelines and approval from health authorities.
“Unfortunately until now, they are still debating on the efficacy of the rapid tests we would like to buy ... And there’s a rule that we cannot use public funds to buy medical supplies, medicines, without the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) signal,” the president said. “I will take the risk ... I’m clearing the way. I will ask (Health) Secretary (Francisco) Duque to talk to the people in charge, to Secretary (Carlito) Galvez. And they can proceed to buy it immediately,” he added.
Galvez, who leads the National Task Force against COVID-19, said the government also needed to purchase polymerase chain reaction-based (PCR) kits for the confirmatory tests. The government was looking to purchase 2 million rapid test kits and 900,000 PCR kits.
“The PCR that we will be buying (is) worth PHP3.3 billion ($59.28 million) to include the capacitation of more or less 28 accredited private and government hospitals nationwide,” he added.
Senator Win Gatchalian urged Manila to help local government units (LGUs) so they could beat the pandemic.
“With the incidence of new COVID-19 cases growing by the day, LGUs should lead in the fight against the dreaded COVID-19,” Gatchalian said, emphasizing that test, quarantine, and treatment were the steps that units should take to stem the tide.
The units should have greater autonomy in procuring testing kits or setting up testing facilities to fast-track detection of positive cases from every household living in every street within every barangay (village), he added.