Government targets 10 million COVID-19 tests in next 8 to 10 months
Mega Swabbing Center in Philippine Sports Stadium in Sta Maria Bulacan pictured last May 20, 2020.
The STAR/Michael Varcas
Government targets 10 million COVID-19 tests in next 8 to 10 months
Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - June 29, 2020 - 11:41am

MANILA, Philippines — An official of the National Task Force against COVID-19 on Monday said the government is now aiming to test 10 million Filipinos in the next eight to ten months.

"[Now] that we have the labs, we have now 68 labs, we have the capacity, we have the supplies, we should and we can now expand [testing] to other segments of the population that are important, that need to be tested," NTF Deputy Chief Implementer and testing czar Vince Dizon told CNN Philippines.

He added that the government would specifically be expanding testing into two sectors: non-medical front liners and those working in critical economic zones.

Under the previous guidelines, healthcare workers and patients with severe or critical and mild symptoms and the vulnerable populations were prioritized for RT-PCR testing.

Dizon listed policemen, soldiers, supermarket workers, sari-sari store vendors, and street vendors as some of the non-medical front liners to be prioritized under the new guidelines for testing.

He added that "those [working] in manufacturing, in our factories, those that work in economic zones and those that work in sectors that are very important like...the [business processing outsourcing] BPO sector" would also be prioritized for testing.

"The idea now is we have to shift the strategy in order to manage COVID-19 and keep the economy open and working in order to make sure that we are able to bounce back from the contraction that we experienced in the first quarter and definitely in the second quarter."

Dizon last week said the government was aiming to test 2% of the population in the coming months but his announcement of a 10 million target on Monday increases that percentage to about 9%.

"You cannot test 10 million in a few weeks or few months, no? It's just not possible. What we need to do is, given the capacity that we have, we have to program our testing in a smart way with the end objective of keeping the economy open. That is the goal now, we have to manage it."

Has the government been meeting previous testing goals?

Dizon on Monday admitted that these expansions in testing goals are late, given that most of the country is already under general community quarantine (GCQ) or an even looser modified GCQ.

"Definitely late, however we were faced with so many constraints in the past which are only starting to be resolved in the past couple of weeks or even days. First of all, our supplies for testing just arrived, our bulk supplies just arrived on June 21 and they will continue to arrive every week after June 21 and this was really the major stumbling block," Dizon said.

The government has long been setting testing goals for itself but has flip-flopped on whether these goals pertained to daily testing capacity or the actual number of tests being conducted per day.

Dizon last Thursday announced that the government had exceeded its daily testing capacity goal of 50,000. He was, however, quick to clarify that the actual number of tests being conducted was at around 16,000.

Before this, Malacañang previously announced a 50,000 daily testing capacity goal despite the fact that it had yet to conduct its previous capacity goal of 30,000 tests per day in actuality.

Presidential Harry Roque in May claimed that 32,100 tests were being administered per day — exceeding the then capacity goal of 30,000 — but later went back on this comment saying that he was referring to testing capacity and not actual tests performed.

Data from the health department showed that the government was conducting less than 10,000 tests per day at the time.

To date, the Philippines has yet to conduct even 30,000 tests per day, despite the Palace's constant upping of its capacity goals.

Dizon during a Palace briefing last Thursday said the total number of tests conducted stood at 612,571.

He added that the government aims to reach a target of one million tests in July.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire in June said the department is aiming test around 1.63 million Filipinos — about 1.5% of the population—by the end of July.

To achieve this goal, the government would have to double the number of tests it has conducted so far in a little over 30 days.

"We couldn't ramp up testing because we didn't have the supplies to do so... but now that we have them, there is really no more excuse," Dizon said.

The World Health Organization recently said that the Philippines has the fastest increase of COVID-19 cases in the Western Pacific. This prompted the health department to urge the WHO not to “cherry pick” countries for comparison.

The department on Sunday announced 653 more confirmed positive cases of novel coronavirus, bringing the country’s total to 35,455. Latest data from the DOH also showed a COVID-19 death toll of 1,244.

COVID-19 MASS TESTING NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: August 3, 2020 - 7:14am

A thread of major news, developments and government pronouncements related the extended community quarantine across the country. Real-time updates about the coronavirus outbreak in the Philippines are available in this live blog. (Main image by AFP/Ted Aljibe)

August 3, 2020 - 7:14am

President Rodrigo Duterte approves the recommendation of Cabinet members to place Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal under modified enhanced community quarantine.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque says the new quarantine measures will be imposed starting midnight of August 4 and will stay in place until August 18.

June 29, 2020 - 12:32pm

The inter-agency task force on COVID-19 imposes a moratorium on the transit of locally stranded persons in Western Visayas, Cebu island, Mactan, Eastern Visayas and Caraga.

"Wala na po silang lugar para mag-quarantine," IATF spokesperson Harry Roque says in a virtual briefing. 

(They have no place to undergo quarantine anymore.)

June 28, 2020 - 4:29pm

The Department of Health announces 485 "fresh" COVID-19 cases on Sunday, June 28.

Another 168 are "late" cases, or "released to patients four days ago or more."

Most of the cases are still from the National Capital Region, with 245 "fresh" and 111 "late."

Central Visayas accounts for 120 "fresh" cases and 11 "late" ones. 

June 4, 2020 - 4:10pm

The National Bureau of Investigation's Death Investigation Division has filed murder and perjury complaints at the Department of Justice against Police M/Sgt. Daniel Florendo and four others over the killing of former soldier Winston Ragos.

Complaints of planting of evidence have also been filed against Florendo and Police S/Sgt. Hector Besas.

Ragos was killed, allegedly in self-defense, in Quezon City on April 21 after a confrontation over quarantine protocols. Florendo shot him, saying the former soldier was reaching for a gun. 

A video of the incident showed Ragos had already turned his back to Florendo when he was shot a second time.

May 19, 2020 - 7:59pm

The Department of Foreign Affairs announces that the Philippine Embassy in Yangon repatriated 91 stranded and distressed Filipinos to Manila on Monday through a special chartered Air Asia flight.

"Some of the repatriates were stranded in Yangon due to flight cancellations. Others lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19- related restrictions thus leaving them economically vulnerable to continue living in Myanmar," says the DFA in a statement.

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