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8,000 to 10,000 daily COVID tests eyed

This is part of the “game plan” being pushed by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases after President Duterte approved the extension of the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon up to April 30.

MANILA, Philippines — Fighting an invisible enemy can be a tough job for government, which is targeting daily testing of about 8,000 to 10,000 with results in 24 hours to contain the coronavirus disease 2019 in thopes of pushing back the COVID-19 peak until a vaccine is found by 2021, officials said.

This is part of the “game plan” being pushed by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) after President Duterte approved the extension of the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon up to April 30.

The government wants to prioritize mass testing for those with symptoms to boost efforts that include the Luzon-wide lockdown extension, coupled with strict social distancing and stay-at-home measures.

“The IATF shall exhaust all means necessary to increase the COVID-19 testing capacity of the country, and for this reason hereby adopts and approves the Guidelines for COVID-19 Mass Testing as presented by the Department of Health (DOH),” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said at his regular virtual presser yesterday morning.

“The government is doing something so that we can reach the level of conducting 8,000 to 10,000 tests a day in the country. Then, we need to speed up the (release of) results in a matter of 24 hours,” Nograles added.

The Philippine also needs to complement mass testing by being able to isolate and treat persons under investigation (PUIs) and COVID-19 patients, in addition to intensified contact tracing.

Testing will still not be available for all, since the priority will be given to those who have symptoms, further classified as persons under monitoring (PUMs), PUIs and COVID-positive patients, according to the Cabinet secretary.

At present, the DOH’s testing capacity can be increased from 2,600 to 7,000 tests per day by April 13. Additional laboratories will allow the testing capability to improve from 4,400 up to 9,800 tests per day by April 20.

The government will be able to conduct 13,000 to 20,000 tests per day by April 27 once big testing centers are established around the country, Nograles said.

Last Monday, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said they have already conducted a total of 22,958 tests. Of the total, 16,615 or 82.7 percent turned out negative while 3,414 or 16.9 percent were positive.

Vergeire said the country’s testing capacity has been improving as more testing kits and laboratories become available.

Subnational laboratories

As part of increasing the government’s capacity in containing the disease, Nograles emphasized the need for the government to identify more subnational laboratories.

“If we are able to do all these, experts say we can push the peak in the Philippines as far as 2021. By that time, the world will already have a vaccine,” he said. “That’s the game plan. We really have to push back (reaching) the peak.”

The government is imposing strict monitoring protocols, along with the quarantine, to prevent the Philippines from reaching the peak of COVID-19 cases, according to Nograles.

“What should be constant is: number one, social distancing must remain… Number two, the testing turnaround must be 24 hours. Number three, the (PUIs) must be isolated,” he said.

“If we do that, we don’t even have to think about reaching the peak. If we go back to normal, (the numbers) will go spiral, it will go really high,” he added.

New normal

By the end of the lockdown on April 30, Nograles explained that the country needs to transform into a “new normal” where the people still need to maintain social distancing.

“If we do not have that kind of discipline, then all our efforts will be useless,” he said.

“If we relax the (enhanced community quarantine)… then social distancing must still happen. If we do that, we do not have to think about reaching the peak. What we want to happen, we go into flattening the curve (without reaching the peak),” he added.

The government has studied three models, which indicate that once the quarantine measures are lifted, cases will usually spike, according to the Cabinet secretary.

Citing the need to increase the health capacity and the need to further improve the testing capacity of the government, Nograles said they are also working to “maximize” the current number of testing subnational laboratories.

Health experts vowed to report to the IATF every Monday to establish whether there is “progression” of the disease by region.

“You need to give us at least mid-April to really study the (quarantine), that’s what our experts say,” Nograles said, justifying further the extension of quarantine.

Pressed if there is a need to expand the Luzon-wide quarantine to the Visayas and Mindanao, Nograles said there is none.

“We’ll have to monitor that, day by day,” he said.

Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the mass testing program is still being studied by the DOH. As far as Panelo is concerned, he is in favor of mass testing to allow the government to isolate infected persons from the general populace.

Credit belongs to : www.philstar.ca


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