Philippines to keep 'risk-based' COVID-19 testing as omicron threat looms

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 03 2022 03:47 PM

A student undergoes an antigen test, as part of the strict safety health protocol being implemented at the Payatas Elementary School in Quezon City on Dec. 27, 2021. Jire Carreon, ABS-CBN News
A student undergoes an antigen test, as part of the strict safety health protocol being implemented at the Payatas Elementary School in Quezon City on Dec. 27, 2021. Jire Carreon, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The Philippines will stick to "risk-based" testing for COVID-19, an official leading the effort said on Monday, after a lawmaker revived calls for free, mass screening against the threat of the omicron coronavirus variant. 

House Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Isagani Zarate on Sunday said Malacañang "should implement the much inadequate, even delayed, but still crucial free COVID mass testing together with pro-active contact tracing as well as faster and more efficient vaccine roll out." 

"We strongly call on President Duterte to finally listen to the oft repeated but unheeded call for free mass testing because the COVID surges are becoming a vicious cycle," the Bayan Muna party-list representative said in a statement. 

But testing “czar” Vince Dizon said, “Paulit-ulit po naming sinasabi, limitado po ang ating resources.” 

(We have repeatedly said our resources are limited.) 

The government will have to shell out P200 million daily if it shoulders the cost of 100,000 coronavirus tests at around P2,000 each, he said. 

"At 100,000 tests a day at P2,000 na lang per test...P200 million po iyon na kailangang ilabas ng gobyerno kada araw kung ganoon kadami ang iti-test natin."

“Hindi po unlimited ang ating resources. Ginagamit natin ang ating mga resources sa pinaka-episyenteng paraan pero importante po sumunod po tayo sa advice ng ating mga eksperto… Patuloy nilang sinasabi na kailangan po ang ating RT-PCR ay risk-based,” Dizon said in a public briefing. 

(Our resources are not unlimited. We use these in the most efficient way, but it’s important that we follow the advice of our experts. They continue saying that our RT-PCR needs to be risk-based.) 

Government in September capped plate-based RT-PCR tests at P3,360 for private laboratories and P2,800 for public labs. 

Asked if government could further slash the prices of COVID-19 tests, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said, “If the technology gets better and we’re able to access that technology for here, for the Philippines, then we will do it.” 

“Maybe we can start assessing again the prices, although we went through that cycle, we went through cycles of putting those caps on the RT-PCR,” he told ANC’s “Headstart.”
     
With roughly 2.84 million total confirmed cases and 51,570 casualties, the Philippines has the second highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia.

The Philippines has so far detected 14 Omicron cases. The country's genome sequencing capacity is limited.

Authorities placed Metro Manila under the third of a 5-scale alert system on Jan. 3 to 15. 

Alert Level 3 bans face-to-face classes, contact sports, funfairs, and casinos. The government's coronavirus task force will also reduce the operating capacity for social events, tourist attractions, amusement parks, restaurant dine-in services, fitness studios, and personal care services.

"It is prudent to assume that Omicron is already in circulation, or is already in the community," Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said at a news conference on Friday. 

— With a report from Reuters