MANILA - A lawmaker on Wednesday said the Philippines could take its cue from South Korea in controlling the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) instead of resorting to a possible lockdown.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said a lockdown would be difficult to implement considering the many entry and exit points in the country.
"What I want to study and urge DOH (Department of Health) to study is the Korean model wherein they didn't lock down Korea but they implemented massive testing activity wherein they already tested 140,000 patients there," Gatchalian said.
The Philippines currently has 4,500 testing kits and expects to receive 2,000 more from the World Health Organization. The limited supply is due to the global shortage of the kits for testing potential COVID-19 cases.
"That's why the locally invented testing kit from UP is a game changer in terms of curbing COVID-19 here in our country. Game changer meaning it's affordable, it's locally available and it can be given to local governments," Gatchalian said.
The Department of Health earlier confirmed cases of local transmission in the country. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is now at 33.
The Food and Drug Administration approved on Tuesday the COVID-19 testing kits by University of the Philippines-National Institute of Health.
"Right now, we have seen local transmission. We have seen people who haven't traveled abroad but they are contracting the disease. If we can give this testing kits at the local level and test it as fast as possible, implement that Korean model where they test everyone who feels that they are sick, then we can contain the disease in their homes, limiting their movement within the community," he said.
Gatchalian believes the government has the funds to conduct mass testing. He said the kits should be made very affordable and given to local government units.
"The local government can be tasked to do this, subject to very strict protocols and guidelines of the DOH, and then No. 2, this is where Congress comes in to allocate additional budget to buy these testing kits and also additional budgets to make sure that protocols are being followed," he said.
With the situation changing very rapidly, Gatchalian said calling for a special session to approve a supplemental budget "should be already in the horizon."
"If the President thinks there is an urgent matter, for example a supplemental budget to give DOH and other government agencies additional funding for them to conduct testing and to conduct other mitigating measures, he can call Congress to convene," he said.
He added the DOH and economic managers should already start planning ahead of time.
The chair of the Senate Committee on Education, Culture and Arts also wants graduation rites and moving-up ceremonies postponed amid the coronavirus concern.
He said these events are huge gatherings and usually attended by family members from abroad.
“We will not cancel it because this type of ceremonies is important for families. But to stop the transmission and also OFWs coming in inadvertently bringing in some of the virus outside, we should already tell them in advance that it will be suspended in further notice,” he said.