COVID-19 response head clears air on mass testing

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 3) — Mass testing for the coronavirus disease in the country remains an aspiration after the COVID-19 response chief clarified his earlier announcement.

On Thursday, Presidential Peace Adviser and COVID-19 response head Carlito Galvez, Jr. said the government was targeting an April 14 start of "massive testing" of persons suspected of coronavirus infection.

But in an interview with CNN Philippines on Friday, Galvez said what he meant was mass quarantine facilities will "more or less be ready" by April 14.

He said mass testing "is ongoing."

"Gusto po naming i-convey sa public na ongoing po ang testing ngayon ng ating DOH (Department of Health); 16,368 na po ang kanilang na-test na tao," he added.

[Translation: We want to convey to the public that testing is now ongoing and the DOH has tested 16,368 people.]

Health Undersecretary Ma. Rosario Vergeire confirmed that 16,368 individuals have been tested, but clarified that this does not mean mass testing has begun. She said the idea is still being discussed at the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The Philippines now has 3,018 coronavirus cases, with 136 deaths and 52 recoveries.

Galvez said in Metro Manila alone, more than 200 cases are considered "mild" while 185 do not exhibit symptoms. They should be moved to quarantine facilities to decongest hospitals and prevent the spread of COVID-19, he added.

The Rizal Memorial Coliseum in Manila will begin operating as a quarantine facility on April 6. Galvez said it can accommodate 200 people.

Other quarantine facilities seen ready by the second week of April are the Philippine International Convention Center and World Trade Center in Pasay City, which can accommodate around 300 and 500 patients, respectively.

Galvez said talks are underway to also convert the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan into another quarantine facility. It can house 1,000 patients, and can be the main quarantine area for Central Luzon, he said.