PH close to hitting 20,000 COVID-19 tests per day – Roque

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 20) — The Philippines can soon run up to 20,000 COVID-19 tests daily with the opening of new accredited laboratories, Malacañang said Monday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the opening of the Philippine Red Cross' own testing center this week would help double local capacity for processing swab samples, with 17 existing laboratories currently able to run between 8,000-10,000 tests.

The government only recently changed its tune about rapid test kits, which were eventually cleared for use provided their results are verified through the more thorough polymerase chain reaction or PCR machines.

LIST: Who can be tested using rapid COVID-19 test kits?

Conducting more tests is now the priority of government, Roque said, with mass testing recommended by the World Health Organization as well as by the team of Chinese medical experts who recently visited Manila to provide some tips to fend off the virus.

"Ngayon dumating na tayo sa punto na bukas po, meron na tayong kakayanan na hanggang 20,000 testing daily. Pero kulang pa rin yan dahil kinakailangan nating ma-test at least 1 percent ng 110 million Filipinos [We have come to a point where by tomorrow, we can run as much as 20,000 tests daily. But that's still not enough because we should test at least 1 percent of the 110 million Filipinos]," Roque said in a press briefing.

This translates to about 1.1 million residents who must be tested for the disease. Accredited labs have tested 52,837 people as of Friday.

Roque said government is targeting to run 900,000 PCR tests as well as 2.2 million rapid tests to make it thorough.

Rapid test kits can provide results as fast as 15 minutes, versus a 24-48 hour window for the traditional machine testing. However, Health officials have warned that the rapid kits could show "false negative" results as these only detect the presence of antibodies fighting the infection in a person's blood, versus the PCR method which detects the actual presence of the virus.

However, Department of Health Spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said the target should not be the percent of population but specific "patient classes."

Latest DOH guidelines state that patients showing severe and critical symptoms are the top priority, followed by those with mild symptoms but are among "vulnerable" groups like the elderly, those with preexisting conditions, high-risk pregnant women, and healthcare workers.

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Next on the list are patients with mild symptoms who have history of travel or exposure to an infected person, and then those not showing any ailment but have a travel history and exposure to a COVID-19 patient.

Roque said the team of Chinese doctors have also suggested to add more quarantine facilities, so government has responded by designating 2,780 centers that can cater to as much as 168,000 coronavirus patients.