Due to its expanded testing protocol, the Department of Health (DOH) said that, by the end of April, 10,000 tests would be conducted per day, as they prioritize the vulnerable sector during, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that by April 14, the DOH will be capable of conducting 3,000 tests per day.
It also aims to further increase capacity between 8,000 to 10,000 tests by the end of April.
“The mass testing that we’re planning is targeted. We need to prioritize the vulnerable members of the population such as pregnant women, those who are immunocompromised, and our front line health workers who have the highest exposure to the virus,” she said.
With expanded testing, the DOH expects to get a fuller assessment of the public health situation, as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country is expected to increase.
The recent addition of laboratories to conduct tests alongside the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) drives the increase in the country’s daily testing capacity from 300 back in January to between 900 and 1,200 currently.
So far, she said the DOH has already tested more than 19,000 individuals for COVID-19, nearing 4,000 confirmed cases.
Of the more than 19,000 tested, she said 15,398 individuals tested negative for COVID-19 while 49 showed “equivocal” results.
Secretary Carlito Galvez, chief implementer of the national action plan against COVID-19, earlier said the DOH has started testing the vulnerable, those with severe cases, and symptomatic, which already similar to a mass testing.
Vergeire assured the Philippines has sufficient supply of test kits. She said the Philippine government is continuously buying them to boost our testing capacity.
At present, she said the RITM can already do 1,000 test per day; sub-laboratories, 200 per day and bagong umpisa, 40 per day.
“We can now do 2,000 tests per day,” she further stated.
The DOH also said the testing kits developed by the University of the Philippines-National Institute of Health (UP-NIH) have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and will be ready for roll-out. She said this will further increase the country’s capacity to undertake targeted testing.
In the Senate, Senator Win Gatchalian favors extending the quarantine period by at least two weeks with the mass testing set to be conducted two days after the end of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
He said this will undermine the reliability of mass testing results and would only accelerate the spread of the virus. The two-week period, he said, will also need to analyze test results.
Gatchalian said mass testing will paint a clearer picture of COVID-19 spread in the country and help track down those who are infected so they can at once be isolated or ordered quarantined.
The senator emphasized that mass testing should have a targeted approach and prioritize those who have been exposed to COVID-19-positive patients such as those Persons under Monitoring (PUMs), Persons under Investigation (PUIs) and the frontliners.
He said mass testing will also cover asymptomatic carriers who may be unknowingly spreading the disease. He cited the case of Iceland, where laboratory mass testing revealed that around 50 percent of cases have no symptoms.
He said this is a better approach to flatten the curve and at the same time it would lead to a more efficient use of resources and avoid further strain to the country’s already overwhelmed health care system.
“Without mass testing, we are totally blind. And when we are blind, the risk is higher of spreading the virus again, thereby wasting the 30-day Enhanced Community Quarantine,” Gatchalian explained.
The senator added that it is important for the country to have a sustainable capacity for mass testing and urged the Department of Health (DOH) to fast-track capacity-building and accreditation of testing laboratories.
The senator said that mass production for locally-produced testing kits by UP-NIH will boost the country’s testing capacity.
Between April 4 to 25, a certain number of testing kits that can do up to 26,000 tests will be rolled out.
There is also an-going production of testing kits that can perform up to 120,000 tests.
Manufacturer Manila HealthTek Inc. is making these kits commercially available at P1,300, significantly cheaper than the ones currently used in hospitals, which can cost by up to P8,000. According to Gatchalian, this would give LGUs a more cost-efficient option in procuring their own test kits./Stacy Ang