A health care worker takes a swab from a woman at a mobile testing site.
The STAR/Walter Bollozos
COVID-19 task force OKs economic team's proposal, expansion of COVID-19 testing
Alexis Romero (Philstar.com) - June 30, 2020 - 5:25pm

MANILA, Philippines — The government's pandemic task force has approved the economic team's recommendations to further open up the economy, including expanding the testing capacity to lower the country's positivity rate.

The Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) adopted the recommendations through Resolution No. 50 issued last Monday.

"After a discussion that lasted for almost seven hours, an agreement was reached and the recommendations of the economic team were approved in principle," presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at a press briefing Tuesday.

"To the armchair analysts who are claiming that the IATF only offers militaristic solutions and economic managers are not part of the task force, that's fake news... It is important to open up the economy and start the recovery from the lockdown," he added.

Roque said the strategies to fight coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) would be revisited to ensure a balance between health and economics. The strategies seek to strengthen the confidence of people to go back to work and to strengthen consumer demand.

The economic team recommended the expansion of testing strategy to include other segments of the population as recommended by the National Task Force against COVID-19, the implementing body of the IATF. Local governments would be consulted on the moving up of the economy of Central Luzon, CALABRZON, and Metro Manila "towards easing up of community quarantine status," the IATF resolution said.

Economic managers also proposed the strengthening of mitigating measures including strictly enforcing minimum public health standards, ensuring the protection of vulnerable populations including those with existing illnesses, maximizing the test, trace, and isolate and treat infrastructure; and using the full support of strategic communications.

The government also aims to "accelerate testing capacity by the end of July 2020 to aid in achieving a positivity rate of three percent." The Philippines has a positivity rate of about six percent, which means that for every 100 persons who undergo COVID-19 tests, six test positive for the virus.

Roque said the expansion of testing capacity is crucial to avoid the more expensive treatment cost of P333,519 for severe cases, P786,384 for critical cases "and potentially much more for the total cost of care." He noted that the proposed extension of the Bayanihan Act seeks to allocate P10 billion for testing subsidy. There is also a proposal to allot P15 billion for cash for work program and to hire 50,000 contact tracers, Roque said.

The economic team recommended gearing towards a more localized quarantine at the municipal or barangay levels "once evidence of steady progress towards meeting the targets is observed." It also called for an optimized use of "sufficient and safe public transportation to facilitate the opening up of the economy." Roque said the economic cluster has specific proposals on public transportation, including providing subsidies to affected drivers.

"The economic team is also considering giving subsidies. It's not huge, just enough for the public transportation that did not operate in a 100 percent capacity to recover. Of course we have to give them subsidies for them to recover their costs, the breakeven, about 10 percent," Roque said. 

Mass transportation was suspended for about two months after the government imposed a lockdown to contain the virus. 

2019 N-COV NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
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