PH aims to test 1.5-2% of population as Malacañang clarifies 'targeted' testing policy

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 19)— Following the footsteps of other model nations, the Philippines is targeting to test 1.5 to 2 percent of its almost 110 million population for COVID-19 infection, Malacañang said Tuesday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made the statement in an interview with CNN Philippines' The Source, where he also clarified that his previous declaration on the lack of a mass testing program in the country was "taken out of context."

Roque said his statement on leaving the testing efforts to the private sector was in response to a reporter's inquiry regarding the requirement of COVID-19 testing for company employees.

"What I did say was in response to the question on the DOH (Department of Health) guidelines on COVID testing, and until now, there is no such rule that employees will have to present COVID test results before they can be allowed to go back to work," Roque said. "But it's not accurate to say that we don't have a mass testing policy."

The spokesperson noted it would be better to coin the testing policy as "targeted" and not "mass," as it would be "physically impossible" to test millions of residents.

"Right now, we're trying to follow the footsteps of South Korea. That is why the goal is to test 1.5 to 2 percent of the total population. You can't test 110 million persons, but in any case, no country in the world can test every single citizen they have," Roque said.

"In the press conference, I cited Wuhan, because in Wuhan, they're attempting to test everyone, 11 million residents. That's the context when I said, we can't do the same thing in Metro Manila, perhaps. What we are doing is 1.5 to 2 percent testing, which is what South Korea is also doing," he added.

In his virtual media briefing on Monday, Roque was quoted as saying that the country has yet to roll out a mass testing program for COVID, given the limited resources on the table. He added authorities will leave such efforts to the private sector. 

The statement came under fire as netizens questioned the effectivity of the two-month lockdown implemented in various parts of the country, when no mass testing was supposedly put in place. They also raised questions on the allocation of the government's special COVID-19 response budget, as well as the granting of special powers to President Rodrigo Duterte.

Calls for mass or targeted testing have surfaced since March, when the coronavirus infections in the Philippines started to spike. Officials have argued that the ramped up testing is the first step in the isolation and containment of the mysterious viral disease.

READ: From mitigation to containment: Why targeted testing is important in governments' COVID-19 measures

In April, the Philippines rolled out its first wave of the "progressive" expanded testing, where high-risk patients have been prioritized. These are people showing severe flu-like symptoms; the elderly, those with pre-existing health conditions, and pregnant women with mild symptoms; and healthcare workers with respiratory symptoms.

Roque, for his part, admitted that the country is still "far" from its goal of conducting 30,000 COVID-19 tests by the end of May, but reassured that officials are doubling efforts to build more testing laboratories.

He added that the testing efforts in the country have been rolled out through partnerships from both the public and private sectors.

To date, the Philippines has recorded over 12,000 cases of the infectious disease.