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DOH: No 'mass testing', just 'risk-based testing' to get more people tested

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
DOH: No 'mass testing', just 'risk-based testing' to get more people tested
Photo shows a lady riding a foot scooter along Kamias road in Quezon City and wearing a placard calling for free mass testing in the Philippines for COVID-19.
The STAR / Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government still has no plans to carry out mass testing to detect COVID-19 infections in the country, the Department of Health said, even as cases pile up at an alarming rate.

The abrupt increase in cases and the movement restrictions put in place to prevent the further spread of infections heightened the demand for the government to conduct mass testing, which groups have been calling for since the start of the pandemic.

“We have no plans to conduct mass testing. The government, since the start of this pandemic, has never advocated for mass testing because it sometimes leads to indiscriminate testing,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in Filipino during a briefing Monday.

Vergeire said there is no country capable of testing all of its citizens. It is the same with the previous statement of Malacañang that it is "physically impossible" to test all Filipinos for COVID-19.

Mass testing, however, does not mean testing the entire population of the country. 

Groups calling for mass testing said it is necessary to isolate patients and prevent other individuals from being exposed to the highly contagious disease.

But Vergeire said that testing is a “one time event.”

“You get tested today and tomorrow you might be exposed again and there might be another outcome for you,” she said.

Since testing is not free, it remains an inaccesible privilege for the majority of Filipinos. The Supreme Court even junked a petition that sought to compel the Duterte administration to implement mass testing.

‘Risk-based testing’

So what is the government doing? Vergeire said it is conducting “risk-based testing.”

The health official said local government units are doing active case finding through house-to-house symptoms checks, which is part of the government’s Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic.

"They will go to houses to identify those who have symptoms [and] who were exposed, so they will be the ones that we’ll test," Vergeire said.

If there is clustering in a household, every house member will be tested for COVID-19.

Vergeire also said this house-to-house approach is helping drive the increase in testing output.

"That is what we want to do and employ so we can help prevent this increase in the number of cases," she said.

A year into pandemic, only 9,450,895 people have been tested for COVID-19.

In May 2020, the government promised to do 50,000 COVID-19 tests daily. The highest number of samples tested so far, according to DOH’s COVID-19 tracker, was 57,524 cases last March 20.

So far, the Philippines has logged 721,892 cases, of which 14.6% are active cases. 

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