PH begins 'progressive' COVID-19 mass testing

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 14) — The Philippines on Tuesday rolls out its "progressive" mass testing to detect COVID-19 cases in the country.

In the first wave of expanded testing, high-risk patients are prioritized. These are the people who are showing severe flu-like symptoms; elderly, those with pre-existing health conditions, and pregnant women with mild symptoms; and healthcare workers with respiratory symptoms.

Department of Health (DOH) spokesperson Ma. Rosario Vergeire said the testing will cover more sectors as the country's testing capacity increases.

Fifteen subnational laboratories can now conduct COVID-19 tests nationwide. DOH is also fast tracking the approval of 28 institutions undergoing DOH laboratory certification process, while 37 others have expressed intention to be certified.

"Dadating po tayo sa punto na it's going to be progressive kapag dumating na po tayo na capacitated na ang labs and we will be reaching 8,000 tests per day and then i-expand na po natin ang coverage ng ating populasyon," Vergeire said in a media briefing on Monday.

[Translation: We will increase it progressively when our laboratories can handle the capacity and we can conduct 8,000 tests per day, then we will expand the testing coverage.]

The next wave of testing cluster will include healthcare workers who are not showing symptoms but are constantly exposed to the virus.

The national government's initial target is to be able to increase capacity to 2,600 to 7,000 tests per day this week. By April 20, the goal is to conduct 4,400 to 9,800 tests daily. The government hopes to be able to do 13,000 to 20,000 COVID-19 tests per day by April 27 — three days before the end of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine.

The DOH said it has partnered with the UP National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology for the strategic deployment of more than 300 volunteers in 15 certified laboratories in the country.

Vergeire added that 1,429 individuals have already finished an online biosafety course organized by UP Manila who can add to the work force in testing laboratories.

There have been 35,804 conducted tests in the country since January this year until April 13 with 4,932 positive results.

With the increased testing capacity, Vergeire said that the number of confirmed COVID cases would also go up. Due to this, the number of

patients that will need medical assistance will also rise.

The national government focus also includes ensuring there are adequate quarantine

facilities and beds to house suspected, potential, and confirmed cases of COVID-19.

There are now 2,673 operational quarantine facilities, with a total of 165,756 beds, nationwide.

The DOH said the efforts of local government units to conduct community testing complements the national government's thrust to help curb the spread of the coronavirus disease.

"Ang localized mass testing ay magko-complement o tutulong sa mga stratehiya na ipinatutupad po ng ating national government regarding expanded or mass testing," Vergeire said.

[Translation: The localized mass testing will help with the strategy of the national government on mass testing.]

Valenzuela, Quezon City, Pasig, Manila City, and Muntinlupa have started testing suspected cases in their communities. The local governments have also begun housing patients who are awaiting their test results in quarantine facilities to avoid passing the virus to their family members and those in their neighborhood.

DOH warned that the country's COVID-19 crisis may last until January 2021 if no proper interventions will be implemented.

The World Health Organization on Monday stressed a vaccine would be necessary to fully halt transmission. With the absence of a vaccine, Vergeire said social distancing and frequent hand-washing can curb the transmission of COVID-19.