Palace: Don't say 'mass testing', we can't test everybody

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Palace: Don't say 'mass testing', we can't test everybody
A resident of Brgy. San Miguel in Taguig City undergoes swabbing for coronavirus testing on April 23, 2020.
The STAR / Walter Bollozos

MANILA, Philippines — The government is carrying out an "expanded targeted testing," not "mass testing," Malacañang said Tuesday, as it maintained that it is "physically impossible" to test all Filipinos for the coronavirus.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said it is wrong to use the term "mass testing" because no country in the world conducts coronavirus tests on all their citizens.

Those calling for mass testing do not mean that everybody should be tested.

Roque noted that in the Philippines, people who are required to undergo tests include those who exhibit coronavirus symptoms, those who traveled to other countries, returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), and those who had close contacts with individuals who tested positive for the virus.

"The term should be 'expanded targeted testing’ okay? No country in the world tests all their citizens. So the term 'mass testing' is wrong," Roque said at a press briefing.

Roque said the Philippines aims to comply with the global benchmarks of testing one to two percent of the population or up to 10 percent for areas considered as epicenters of the disease.

"That's what we want for Metro Manila. There is no perfect formula, we just need to follow the global benchmark and build capacity to test broadly and swiftly, and this is what we are doing," he added.

Speaking to CNN Philippines, Roque said claimed the Philippines has "one of the most stringent testing protocols in the world." He said all OFWs are subjected to PCR testing, not just anti-body testing while other countries only test those with symptoms.

"Now perhaps the better term is not mass testing but it should be targeted testing ‘no, because I think it’s physically impossible to test 110 million but we’re aiming to test, also using statistics as a science ‘no, 1.5 to 2 percent of our population," the Palace spokesman said.

Roque said the benchmark would already give the government "a very good picture of the extent of the infection."

Last Monday, Roque reported that the Philippines has 30 testing facilities and 2,908 healing centers. 

Vince Dizon, deputy chief implementer of the national policy on coronavirus disease previously said the increasing number of laboratories has raised the Philippines' testing capacity from 8,500 on May 2 to 14,500 on May 10.  The 14,500 testing capacity, however, is still less than half of the 30,000 per day target set by the government.

Roque also criticized an online report that quoted him as saying that the government still has no plans to carry out mass testing and that authorities would leave such efforts to the private sector.

"If the private sector is volunteering to test their employees before they return to work, the government won't oppose that. It would even thank them for it. But that does not mean that there is no expanded target testing in our nation," he said.

A transcript of the May 18 Palace press briefing showed that the quote that served as basis for the online report was a response to a question about mass testing.

"Well, as much as possible po ano, mayroon tayong—ini-increase natin iyong capacity natin ng testing kaya nga we’re aiming na aabot tayo sa 30,000 (we are increasing our testing capacity and we are aiming to reach 30,000)," Roque said last Monday.

"Pero in terms of mass testing na ginagawa ng Wuhan na all 11 million, wala pa pong ganiyang programa at iniiwan natin sa pribadong sektor (But in terms of mass testing being conducted in Wuhan which has 11 million people, there is no such program yet and we leave it to the private sector)," he added.

When a reporter reminded Roque of his previous statement, the Palace spokesman replied: "Very clearly, literally I compared the situation to Wuhan, where they seek to test all qq million residents. We won't do that in the entire Philippines. We cannot even do that in Metro Manila. That's why we are conducting a systematic program of targeted testing."

Roque said the government is taking testing seriously because "it’s the only way we can identify where the enemy is."

"Once we identify where the enemy is, then we can isolate and we can cure," he added.

He said under the guidelines set by the health department, people who need to be tested are divided into four sub-groups. Sub-group A refers to critical or severe cases while sub-group B pertains to mild but vulnerable cases.

Sub-group C pertains to mild and not vulnerable cases while sub-group D refers to those who have no symptoms but who have close contact with persons who tested positive or those with history of travel to countries with coronavirus cases.

"If other countries only test sub-group C, we test A to C, all those who are symptomatic. The PCR is only accurate to those with symptoms," Roque said.

Roque said state-run Philippine Health Insurance Corp. pays for the cost of PCR tests. Employers, meanwhile, shoulder the rapid test kits voluntarily given to their employees.

Opening of classes

Roque also assured the public that the government won't force classes to open on August 24 if the situation does not improve.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers has asked the government to reconsider the date of the school opening, saying it should not be done unless there is mass testing.

"We are flexible. Although we have said that August 24 is the date of school opening, that assumes that at least we would be under GCQ (general community quarantine). When come Aug. 24, some areas are still under MECQ (modified enhanced community quarantine) or ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), which is possible because social distancing is being disregaded, maybe there would still be no classes," Roque said.

"We won't force it if it would double or hasten the spread of the disease and if it poses a threat to the health of our youth," he added. 




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