As Metro Manila and other highly urbanized cities are gearing for further easing of restrictions on movement and the return to work for even more people, Senator Sonny Angara said today that testing for COVID-19 should be ramped up already in order to avoid another outbreak of the disease in the country.
Until such time that more people are tested for COVID-19, Angara said there will always be a risk of an outbreak, which the country can no longer afford to happen.
“In the T3 program, testing is the first step, followed by tracing and treating. All three components are equally important but unless we can perform more tests, we can never be sure of our safety when we go out of our homes and get back to work,” Angara said.
As of May 22, a total of 13,597 confirmed cases have been recorded in the country. There are 857 deaths and 3,092 recoveries.
Last Monday, Angara filed Senate Bill 1535 or the proposed Crushing COVID Act, a counterpart measure to the bill filed by Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, which seeks to implement mass testing, particularly on the vulnerable sectors of society.
Under the bill, the conduct of PCR testing will prioritize persons returning to work with co-morbidities such as diabetes, hypertension, pulmonary diseases, cancer, renal failure, pregnancy, old age, obesity and the immunocompromised.
“They are the people who are most vulnerable to contracting severe COVID-19 and at higher risk of death so they should definitely be tested right away,” Angara said.
Priority will also be given to health care workers, sales personnel in public markets, groceries and supermarkets, food handlers, factory workers, construction workers, security guards and drivers, banks and transfer fund facilities personnel, laundry shop workers, house helpers, caregivers, pregnant women, embalmers, wellness and salon workers, uniformed personnel, media personnel, barangay health workers, and family members whose households have dwellers who went abroad last December 2019 until the present time.
These are the people who are most exposed to persons who could be carrying the virus and could end up spreading the virus to even more people.
All persons entering the Philippines, including foreign nationals will also have to undergo testing.
“We expect PhilHealth to be able to cover most if not the entire cost of the tests. For the foreign nationals, they will have to shoulder the costs themselves,” Angara said.
The bill also prescribes the grant of an emergency pandemic leave covering the period of quarantine/treatment of the employee who tests positive for COVID-19.
“This is separate from the existing leave credits of the employee. With this provision, we will address the no work, no pay scenario they would most likely face if and when they test positive,” Angara said.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) is aiming to increase the testing capacity of the country from the present 11,509 daily to 30,000 per day by the end of May.
There are 37 accredited testing facilities in operation, 31 of which are RT-PCR laboratories. Another 119 laboratories have pending applications for accreditation.
The goal of the IATF is to hit the global benchmark of testing 1% to 2% of the population or two million persons in total. This would require the testing capacity to go up to 50,000 a day.
“Testing the people who are out in the workplaces is critical especially when we are seeing reports from areas such as Sitio Alaska Mambaling in Cebu where more than 90% of its cases are asymptomatic,” Angara said.
Angara emphasized that contact tracing procedures should also be strengthened otherwise all of the efforts to increase testing and prevent the spread of the virus will be negated.
A COVID-19 survivor himself, Angara said he has seen first hand of the weaknesses of the system of contact tracing in the country.
“There are gaps in the network of information which make contact tracing ineffective. In order to prevent the spread of the virus, communication and sharing of information between the hospitals, the LGUs and the relevant government agencies and contact tracers must be quick and done in real time,” Angara said.
“There has to be a person or an agency on top of this system on information sharing. Because what’s the point of doing all these tests when you won’t be able to trace the people and their contacts? We cannot have gaps in the system,” he added.
The IATF is hiring over 100,000 contact tracers in order to improve efficiency and creating new jobs in the process.
Metro Manila, Bataan, Bulacan, Laguna, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Zambales and Angeles City are currently under a modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).
Cebu City and Mandaue City are still under an enhanced community quarantine while the rest of the country are under a general community quarantine./Stacy Ang