DOH says stopping use of rapid kits as screening test among the end-goal of two-week MECQ

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 5) — Stopping the use of rapid test to confirm or rule out a coronavirus infection is one of the goals of the Department of Health after the two-week modified enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, an official said Wednesday.

Health spokesperson Maria Vergeire said this is one of the objectives of their updated COVID-19 response plan to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Rapid test kits have been widely used as industries reopen following the easing of movement restrictions across the country. Experts do not recommend this test as it detects the presence of antibodies in a person’s body, not the infection. Antibodies may not be produced during the early stages of the disease, making the test less accurate.

The RT-PCR or real-time polymerase chain reaction test is considered as “the gold standard” for coronavirus testing because it can detect the actual presence of the virus, even when the patient is not showing any symptoms.

COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force spokesperson Harry Roque said rapid test could still be used, but it must be in conjunction with a PCR test.

The DOH data ”will support that perhaps rapid test kits are doing what they’re supposed to do which is operate as initial screening until individuals are able to get PCR test,” Roque told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

Over the weekend, the medical community asked President Rodrigo Duterte to reimpose strict enhanced community quarantine in Mega Manila for two weeks, noting the need to “recalibrate strategies” since the current response was not able to bring COVID-19 under control.

Duterte partially agreed to their request by placing Metro Manila, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal, and Bulacan under modified ECQ from August 4 to 18.

Several health organizations have recommended that the two-week "timeout" be used to address "healthcare workforce deficiency, failure of case finding and isolation, failure of contact tracing and quarantine, transportation safety, workplace safety public compliance."

Vergeire said in an online forum that they have been “communicating and working closely with the medical community to respond to these urgent concerns.”

She added that they have been collaborating with government agencies including the Office of the President and Department of Interior and Local Government to draw up resolutions on matters raised by the medical societies.

CODE protocol

Vergeire said what makes its updated strategy different is that their teams will “go on the ground” to make people feel that they are leading the response.

She said Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic or CODE teams will be deployed to communities to put up campaign materials reminding people to follow the minimum health standards, go house-to-house to find active cases, and distribute face masks and face shields to those who cannot afford them.

Critics have earlier noted that the Philippines uses a military approach to address a public health crisis, arresting those who fail to follow safety measures such as wearing of face masks.

CNN Philippines' Catherine Modesto and Eimor Santos contributed to this report