Philippines to buy 500K antigen kits as increased testing eyed in 'NCR Plus'
Health workers conduct rapid tests on motorcycle riders during the opening of the city government’s drive-through COVID-19 testing center at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila yesterday.
The STAR/KJ Rosales

Philippines to buy 500K antigen kits as increased testing eyed in 'NCR Plus'

(Philstar.com) - March 31, 2021 - 3:12pm

MANILA, Philippines — The government is looking to purchase half a million antigen test kits in a bid to screen more individuals within the NCR Plus bubble, the Department of Health said Wednesday.

At House hearing on Tuesday, officials said results from antigen tests will now be included in the country's overall tally of infections. Previously, only results from RT-PCR tests were counted.

This drew concerns from Rep. Stella Quimbo (Marikina) and Rep. Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna party-list), who said that there may be an underreporting of cases. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in the hearing also admitted non-inclusion of antigen test results was a gap that needed to be addressed.

"The national government is procuring, from our initial discussions, a total of 500,000 antigen test kits," said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire in a briefing.

Citing testing czar Vince Dizon, the health official added that an initial 30,000 antigen test kits are due to arrive soon. 

The health department has also sought help from the World Health Organization, which committed an assistance of some 20,000 more kits.

"Hopefully it arrives before the weekend for the use of our local governments," Vergeire said.

Officials in Tuesday's hearing said including antigen test results from NCR Plus is part of government's response to contain the surge in infections. 

While it was not done before, the DOH said the move is allowed in areas where there is an outbreak or a rise in cases. Local governments can also use these kits in their house-to-house visits under a "risk-based" screening.

Vergeire said antigen tests will be used for those with symptoms of COVID-19, as well as those exposed to positive individuals and contacts of identified patients.

She added that with its inclusion, they are expecting too that newly detected cases will increase as more persons will be screened. The health official, however, denied claims on social media that the move will be used to manipulate data, and influence government's decision on quarantine classifications in the country. 

"My first question is, why would we manipulate?" Vergeire said. "What would be our objective? What we want to show people is what is happening on the ground."

The last few weeks of March saw the Philippines reporting huge increases in daily COVID-19 cases. It has been days since over 9,000 additional infections were tallied, including a record-high 10,016 on March 29.

In total, 741,181 Filipinos have contracted the COVID-19, with active cases at 124,680. Deaths are also at 13,191, while the number of persons who recovered at 603,310. — Christian Deiparine

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