Zubiri opts not to use current stock of COVID-19 test kits for follow-up screening

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 19 2020 06:10 PM

MANILA - Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel "Migz" Zubiri is declining to avail of a follow-up screening for the novel coronavirus using the government's available testing kits and will await instead those which he helped source through the private sector, he said Thursday.

"With all due respect to our dear (Health) Secretary (Francisco Duque III), I feel that the remaining available testing kits should be utilized by those who need them the most, like frontline medical personnel and symptomatic patients, especially the elderly," said Zubiri, who was confirmed last Monday to be positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The lawmaker is the highest Philippine official so far to have acquired the disease already classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization as it has spread out to more than 160 countries and territories, infecting more than 200,000 people, with over 8,000 deaths.

Duque has recommended that Zubiri takes another test to check if his initial swabbing was a "false positive" for COVID-19.

The two officials drew flak after the asymptomatic senator was allowed to take not just one but possibly 2 tests despite the health department's protocol that kits should only be used for elderly or symptomatic patients due to scarcity.

Zubiri claimed he was not showing any of such symptoms as fever, cough, colds, or sore throat at the time that he was tested over the weekend.

The senator started going on self-quarantine on March 11 after attending a recent Senate hearing whose resource person later tested positive for the disease.

"I feel that the first and only test I had was accurate as I remembered that I had a slight fever Wednesday last week and was asymptomatic already by Monday after," Zubiri said in a message to reporters Thursday.

"It’s possible that I'm beating the virus so I will just continue my isolation for another 8 days to complete the protocol," he added.

Zubiri's rejection of Duque's proposal to undergo another swabbing came 2 days after saying he was "very open" to taking another COVID test "just to be 100 percent sure" he was not infected with the disease.

Zubiri said succeeding COVID-19 test kits he would use will come from a donated batch he helped source from South Korea.

Under the Department of Health's protocol, COVID patients must test negative twice before they can be listed as among those who fully recovered from the disease.

"Whatever test that will be done on me later on will be from the 10,000 kits our private sector group Art Rocks is paying for and bringing in from Korea as donations to frontline hospitals and not from government sources," Zubiri said.

The administration of COVID-19 testing kits became a hot topic on social media as some people questioned why government officials and prominent personalities, who did not show symptoms of COVID-19, were subjected to swabbing, while health workers and symptomatic patients had to wait for days before being checked for the disease.

The problem stemmed from the government' lack of testing kits. A Senate hearing found that the DOH only had 2,000 testing kits shortly before the Philippines was placed under a state of public health emergency due to the spread of the virus.