COVID-19 mass testing still not an option, says DOH
The COVID-19 test kit developed by scientists from the University of the Philippines which may be rolled out soon.
The STAR/Michael Varcas
COVID-19 mass testing still not an option, says DOH
Alexis Romero ( - March 25, 2020 - 6:19pm

MANILA, Philippines — Conducting mass testing for 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is still not an option for now because of the country's limited testing kits and laboratory capacity, the health department said Wednesday.

Some groups are calling for free, mandatory COVID-19 mass testing nationwide, saying it would allow the government to undertake proper steps to arrest the further spread of the disease.

COVID-19, which has been declared a global pandemic, has afflicted close to 600 persons in the Philippines and has left more than 30 others dead.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the Philippines cannot implement a mass testing for now because it does not have enough test kits and is still expanding the capacity of its laboratories.

"While we already have 100,000 testing kits, we expect more to arrive, these are not enough to conduct mass testing," Vergeire said in a televised press briefing.

"For now, mass testing is not on in our consideration because we lack capacity. Even if we have testing kits but we do not have laboratories, we cannot do it. So we are completing the establishment of extension laboratories nationwide," she added.

Vergeire said the conduct of mass testing would be more efficient if the government has sufficient resources.

"Once we stabilize all our laboratories, we can decide if we can do mass testing or not," she added.

At the same press briefing, Vergeire said those who have COVID-19 symptoms can go to government hospitals, noting that at least three private hospitals have reached their full capacity due to the surge in the number of patients.

"We are announcing and encouraging all of those Filipinos who have symptoms including the severe ones, those who belong to vulnerable group, you can go to government hospitals. They are equally capable," Vergeire said.

"We are waiting for the numbers to stabilize. Once we open the referral hospitals hopefully by the end of the week or over the weekend, we can funnel the patients (to the referral hospitals) and decongest the other hospitals," she added.

Vergeire said officials would discuss how the provisions of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act would strengthen cooperation between public and private hospitals. The law allows Duterte to direct the operation of private hospitals medical and health facilities and turn them into accommodation for health workers, quarantine areas, or aid distribution centers.

"Their (private hospitals) commitment is once the (COVID-19) patients are funneled to referral hospitals, they will accept non-COVID patients and render services that the referral hospitals were not able to perform because they have become COVID-19 hospitals," Vergeire said.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año said the provision that allows the president to direct the operation of private entities would be gradually implemented. He noted that the government needs facilities near hospitals for health workers and isolation areas for COVID-19 patients.

"We are accounting our PUIs (patients under investigation) and waiting for the test results. We have to isolate them. We have started looking for facilities where we can out out PUIs and even the asymptomatic positve cases. They do not need to be hotels. They can be arenas or gymnasiums," he added.

Año said reservists may also be tapped to beef up the manpower in hospitals that are facing challenges after some of their personnel are placed under quarantine.

Vergeire said the health department has also launched a volunteer program that encourages medical practitioners to become COVID-19 frontline workers.

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