'Expanded targeted testing' may soon include asymptomatic cases
A health care worker takes a swab from a woman at a mobile testing site.
The STAR/Walter Bollozos

'Expanded targeted testing' may soon include asymptomatic cases

Alexis Romero (Philstar.com) - June 4, 2020 - 6:30pm

MANILA, Philippines — The government is planning to expand its coronavirus testing to include people who have no symptoms, an official said Thursday.

Vince Dizon, deputy chief implementer of the national policy on coronavirus disease, said about 98% of coronavirus cases in the world are asymptomatic and those who showed mild symptoms while only 2% are critical.

"During the previous months, we can only test our countrymen who manifest symptoms like fever, colds and coughs. Now, because of our huge capacity nationwide, especially in Visayas and Mindanao, we can go beyond those with symptoms," Dizon said at a press briefing.

"Our goal now for the expanded targeted testing should be to find and test the asymptomatic," he added.

Dizon said the goal can be achieved by expanding targeted testing in communities especially in densely populated areas like Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Cebu, Davao and other huge cities. He said targeted testing should also be conducted on frontliners who do not have symptoms.

Government officials have avoided using the term "mass testing" for widespread testing, claiming it means everyone should be tested.

"Our frontliners are not just the medical frontliners. They include frontliners with prolonged exposure to our countrymen daily especially now that many areas in the Philippines are under MGCQ (modified general community quarantine) and GCQ (general community quarantine). They include transport workers, law enforcers... guards in malls and offices and cashers in stores and supermarkets," Dizon said.

Capacity up, actual testing still below 10k a day

Dizon claimed the Philippines' maximum testing capacity has reached 41,990. He said the government aims to increase the testing capacity to 50,000 this month. A total of 52 laboratories are conducting tests nationwide, 33 of them operated by the government and 19 owned by the private sector.  

Health department data, however, showed that only 8,500 to 9,500 tests are being conducted daily despite claims of higher testing capacity.

"We really need to raise (the number of) our actual testing...We can do it if we are aggressive and proactive in testing the asymptomatic," Dizon said.

The government is also decentralizing the arrivals of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) so they can be brought to their provinces immediately and only undergo quarantine once.

"That is part of the plan. We are increasing the testing capacity in provinces so we can bring home the OFWs to their provinces, where they can undergo swabbing and quarantine," presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

Dizon said some OFWs would return to the country through Clark International Airport starting next week. Other international airports would also be opened to facilitate the return of repatriated OFWs, he added.

"Because of the higher (testing) capacity in provinces and cities in Metro Manila, we can facilitate the return of our OFWs to their families," Dizon said.

Dizon said manning agencies have also been allowed to tap laboratories for the testing of migrant workers. Returning OFWs may also undergo tests in private hospitals so they can go home immediately after testing negative for the virus. 

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