Fact check: Palace says Philippines leads world in number of COVID-19 tests conducted
In this May 8, 2020 photo, a healthcare worker collects a swab sample from a motorcycle rider in Taguig City for a COVID-19 test.
The STAR/Walter Bollozos

Fact check: Palace says Philippines leads world in number of COVID-19 tests conducted

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - December 10, 2020 - 4:49pm

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Thursday renewed its defense of the country's testing capacity, going so far as to claim that the Philippines is one of the leading nations in the world when it comes to screening for novel coronavirus.

"Again, regardless of when the president actually realized the importance of testing, it has always been our priority in the IATF and by the vaccine czar which explains why we have one of the highest testing rates now, not just testing capacity but testing rate," presidential spokesman Harry Roque said during a virtual briefing.

"[N]angunguna na tayo sa daigdig pag dating sa (We are leading in the world when it comes to) actual testing conducted," he added.

He said this in response to a question, which he slammed as "moot and academic," over President Rodrigo Duterte's seemingly belated epiphany on the importance of testing in containing the spread of COVID-19.

Philippines one of the lowest in tests conducted among countries worst hit by COVID-19

Despite Roque's tall claims, data shows that the Philippines is not leading the world when it comes to screening for the disease. Instead, among the 30 nations most impacted by the virus, of which the Philippines is part, the country resides in the lower rung in terms of testing rate.

According to business data platform Statista, of the 30 countries worst hit by COVID-19 plus China, where the virus originated, the Philippines is 27th in the rate of tests performed. As of December 9, Statista said, the Philippines conducts only 54,862 — or 5.4%—  tests per million of its population.

Data from the World Health Organization shows that the Philippines also posts the 27th largest coronavirus caseload.

In contrast, the United Kingdom, which currently tops Statista's list, conducts 676,741 tests—or 67% — per million of its population. The UK is trailed by the United States, which screens 636, 413 per million of its population. The US leads the world in the actual number of tests conducted.

Statistic: Rate of coronavirus (COVID-19) tests performed in the most impacted countries worldwide as of December 9, 2020 (per million population)* | Statista

On December 7, the United Kingdom, which has a population of 67.88 million according to statistics site Worldometer, conducted over 205,000 tests. Meanwhile, the Philippines, with an estimated population of 110.24 million, conducted only 25,641 tests, according to University of Oxford-based research website Our World in Data.

Per the same database, the number of tests conducted in the Philippines per day peaked on September 12, with a mere 41,993 tests, nowhere near the world's leader in actual tests conducted, the United States, which peaked on November 25 with 2.01 million tests performed in a single day.

Malacañang's long-running fibs on testing

This is not the first time Malacañang has exaggerated or outrightly misrepresented the state of coronavirus testing in the country.

In April, the government set a goal of 8,000 tests per day by the end of month but subsequently missed the deadline. It reached a testing capacity of over 8,000 on May 10.

Roque in May claimed that 32,100 tests were being administered per day — exceeding the then capacity goal of 30,000 — but later walked back the 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.

By June, Metro Manila was put under general community quarantine (GCQ) against the recommendations of UP researchers, who said more testing needed to be done before restrictions were loosened.

On June 25, an official of the National Task Force against COVID-19 said that the Philippines had met its daily testing capacity goal of 50,000.

"Our goal of 50,000 testing capacity, our ability to test as of June 30, was exceeded on June 19," NTF Deputy Chief Implementer Vince Dizon said during a Palace briefing.

However, he clarified that the actual number of tests being conducted per day was at 16,000 — less than a third of the projected capacity.

When the government announced the 50,000 daily testing capacity goal, it had yet to actually demonstrate its previous capacity goal of 30,000 tests per day.

Roque himself in July admitted that the government could have increased the country's capability to test for the novel coronavirus disease months sooner.

"If I were to look back, what we could have done better, maybe, is when we had our first imported case of COVID-19, we broadened our testing capacity right away," he said in a mix of English and Filipino during a July 9 virtual briefing.

As of this writing, COVID-19 cases in the country have blown past 445,000 and 8,701 Filipinos have died. It has been 270 days since the Philippines was first placed under lockdown. Filipinos will remain under community quarantine until at least the rest of the year.

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