Duque: Some 'VIPs' directly requested for COVID-19 testing

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 24) — Some prominent personalities made direct requests at the country's main novel coronavirus testing center so they could be tested if they are positive for the coronavirus disease, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III confirmed on Tuesday.

He told CNN Philippines that some of the personalities he referred to as "VIPs" or "very important persons" met the initial criteria of the Department of Health (DOH) for testing at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

"There were direct requests made to the RITM by the 'VIP.' I have no details of each one of them that had requested for testing. Sufficient to say, indeed some of them had really fit in the initial criteria for testing," he told CNN Philippines.

Before the DOH revised its testing guidelines on March 16, those showing mild flu-like symptoms, those with travel to areas with local transmission, and contact with a patient were allowed to be tested. Duque said that most of the senators who were tested came in contact with a couple who served as resource persons in the Senate. The said couple later tested positive for COVID-19.

DOH on Monday said there are no VIPs when it comes to COVID-19 testing, but admits it gives "courtesy" to officials involved in national security and public health. The statement came in the wake of public criticism for the testing given to President Rodrigo Duterte, members of the presidential family, Cabinet members, and a number of senators even if they did not exhibit virus symptoms.

Despite his admission that several VIPs were tested for the viral disease, the Health Chief said this does not mean that patients with severe symptoms were not taken care of.

"The point is these people were managed in the hospitals. It's not as if the lack of test result led to the non-care of the patient. They were cared for in the ICU," Duque said.

There were several cases in the country where the patient died before receiving their COVID-19 test results. Duque explained the delay in the release of test results.

"The RITM for a while had to stop testing because of surge of cases. They were afraid their biosafety laboratory standards were already breached and didn't want an epidemic in the laboratory so they stopped. So nagtagal ang paglabas ng mga test results," he said.

The new testing parameters were changed to those who show severe symptoms. Senior citizens; patients with cancer, diabetes, and hypertension; and pregnant women with mild symptoms will also be tested for COVID-19. However, Duque said DOH is eyeing to change its rules again on who should be tested for coronavirus disease. He said those with mild symptoms may be tested once the rules are revised.

Dr. Rabi Abeyasinghe, the WHO Representative in the Philippines, said those with pneumonia and Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) should be prioritized for testing considering the limited number of kits.