Limited test kits led to possible ‘underreporting’ of coronavirus cases in PH – DOH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 9)— The lack of medical resources— particularly testing supplies— may have led to a possible “underreporting” of coronavirus disease cases in the Philippines, the Health Department said Monday.

In a media briefing, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III addressed the earlier statement of Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, who said the department may have “underreported” COVID cases “albeit unintentionally.”

Duque acknowledged that the coverage of the coronavirus tests in the country has been limited.

“He said there is a possibility of under reporting, although unintentionally. This is largely because of our limited testing supplies. As soon as we get more, then we will be able to expand the coverage of who will be tested,” Duque told reporters in Malacañang.

At present, the government’s testing capacity is at 4,500 individual tests, with 2,000 more extraction kits expected to arrive on Tuesday, Duque said. The University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health has also developed test kits for the coronavirus, but they have yet to be rolled out in local hospitals pending clearance and approval from the World Health Organization.

Duque assured the DOH will be expanding its testing coverage once supplies come in, but said the government would need to be more prudent in its approach for now.

Marami po tayong naririnig na nagsasabi, bakit ang DOH hindi mag-test nang mag-test, kagaya ng ginagawa ng iba? May global shortage, hindi ito na-anticipate ng suppliers, manufacturing companies,” the Health chief said.

[Translation: We hear a lot of people saying, why doesn’t the DOH test regularly, like other countries? There’s a global shortage, suppliers and manufacturing companies weren’t able to anticipate this.]

“Meron po tayong pondo, maraming tumutulong. Ang problema 'yung supply. We have to rationalize our testing,” he added.

[Translation: We have the funds, we have a lot of organizations helping us. The problem is the supply. We have to rationalize our testing.]

The Philippines on Monday confirmed 10 more coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of infected patients to 20. This includes the country's first reported local transmission case— a 62-year-old man from Cainta, Rizal with no previous travel history outside of the Philippines. That man's wife also tested positive for the virus.

Health officials received a scolding before the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs on Monday after lawmakers learned that the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine only had about 2,000 test kits left with the rise in COVID-19 cases.

"I don’t want to panic, but you are making me panic. Naririnig namin ngayon, parang hindi niyo pinaghandaan na magkakaroon tayo ng local transmission," Senator Nancy Binay said during the hearing. "We only have 2,000 testing kits out of a 100 million population. Hindi ba nakakatakot?"

Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a separate briefing that the number of test kits started at 4,500, but had since been depleted as more people come forward to be tested for COVID-19.

"Kung hindi tayo magte-test, hindi natin malalaman kung gaano kalala ang problema natin," Binay added, as she pointed out that DOH appeared slow to confirm cases that netizens who forward speculation and uncorfimed information in their online group chats beat them to it.

The development prompted DOH to raise Code Red sublevel 1 — a “preemptive call to ensure that national and local government and public and private health care providers can prepare for possible increase in suspected and confirmed cases."

President Rodrigo Duterte has also declared a state of public emergency, upon health officials' recommendations. The move will allow for easier access to financial resources to control the spread of the disease in the country, and will also allow authorities to enforce mandatory quarantine for travelers.

Over 3,800 people have been killed by the coronavirus, CNN reported Monday. The disease has since spread to 106 countries outside of China, the epicenter of the virus’ outbreak, with over 110,000 cases listed worldwide.