Mass testing pushed to revive Philippine economy

Delon Porcalla - The Philippine Star
Mass testing pushed to revive Philippine economy
“There should be a calibrated balance between health and economic concerns. In the absence of a cure and vaccine, mass testing is the only qualified undertaking that can assuage the work area and other business entities,” Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor said over the weekend.
Walter Bollozos, file

MANILA, Philippines – Allies of President Duterte in the House of Representatives have called on Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to launch mass testing for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) to resuscitate the country’s battered economy.

“There should be a calibrated balance between health and economic concerns. In the absence of a cure and vaccine, mass testing is the only qualified undertaking that can assuage the work area and other business entities,” Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor said over the weekend.

Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, who chairs the House committee on dangerous drugs, recalled Duque’s “costly blunders” that he reckoned were committed “from Day One when he said let’s not ban flights coming from China, specifically Wuhan and Hubei province.”

“And because of these blunders by no less than the secretary, it has eroded the confidence and credibility of the people in the Department of Health (DOH),” Barbers added.

“We should intensify mass testing, implement test, trace and treat. And big corporations should do this on their own employees and maybe their families too,” he added.

Former health secretary and incumbent Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin made a similar proposal.

“The government should focus on mass testing,” Garin said, but cautioned against hiring contact-tracers at this stage because it may just be a waste of time and precious government resources.

“Contact-tracing using hired personnel would have been better during the lockdown, but at this point when we have partially and others have fully opened, contact-tracing without technology is almost impossible,” she added.

Garin belongs to the House minority bloc, though, and is deputy minority leader.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and the DOH should raise minimum health standards for the public as the government tries to ease restrictions because a continuous lockdown may further worsen the pandemic’s economic impact.

“With higher standards, there must be stricter enforcement and monitoring. All public restrooms must have both soap and water for handwashing because handwashing with just water does not kill COVID-19,” Bagong Henerasyon party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera said.

“For example, there must be more handwashing stations, especially at transport terminals and stations because the few squirts of ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol are really not enough,” Herrera added.

She noted that there should be higher face mask standards in office buildings, condominium towers and workplaces because these are enclosed spaces where physical distancing can be tricky.

“For public transport vehicles like transport network vehicle service cars and vans, minibuses and modern jeepneys, all kinds of buses and all rail transport, windows must be open to ensure circulation of fresh air. Instead of using aircon as cooling devices, fans must be installed,” the lawmaker said.

“In elevators, physical distancing is a challenge because of the small enclosed space. Having two or three persons at any time in an elevator is doable, but having four persons in the elevator would be testing the one-meter minimum distance,” she added.

Swab testing for LSIs

Vice President Leni Robredo reiterated yesterday her appeal to the government to conduct reverse transcription – polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests for locally stranded individuals (LSIs) in Metro Manila who would avail themselves of the “Hatid Probinsya” program next week.

Robredo also urged the national government to shoulder the cost of the RT-PCR test kits.

The RT-PCR uses actual swabs from patients taken from the nose or throat to determine the presence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Vice President said she wrote to IATF chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. on Friday, requesting for RT-PCR tests for stranded individuals in Metro Manila.

“Our appeal is for the national government to conduct swab test, not just rapid testing,” Robredo said in her program over radio station dzXL.

“I hope (the national government) will not pass the responsibility to the (local government units), because it will be harder for them,” she added.

The Vice President said she told Galvez that several LSIs, who took the two trips of the Philippine National Railway to Bicol last month, were positive for COVID-19.

“I hope this won’t happen again,” Robredo said.

Galvez had earlier said the IATF is looking at another nationwide “Hatid Probinsya” operation on July 25-26 to decongest facilities in Metro Manila.

The last “Hatid Probinsya” trip was made on July 4-5.

The trips, according to Galvez, will include areas where a moratorium on the entry of LSIs was imposed, such as in Western Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Caraga, Cebu and Mactan Islands.

Galvez also admitted that there were instances where an LSI who tested negative for COVID-19 using antibody rapid test kits tested positive undergoing the same procedure in their provinces.

He urged LGUs to use RT-PCR kits in testing arriving LSIs before they are accepted in isolation facilities.

The “Hatid Probinsya” program was blamed for the spike of COVID-19 cases in some provinces last month. A moratorium was imposed by the national government on June 28 to control the surge in case numbers. Helen Flores


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