DOH says no to mass COVID-19 testing of Filipinos for now

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 20 2020 01:29 PM | Updated as of Mar 20 2020 09:39 PM

Barangay volunteers wearing blue hospital gowns and masks check temperatures and provide hand alcohol rubs to motorists entering San Mateo, Rizal from Marikina through Nangka-San Mateo road on March 15, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The Department of Health said Friday mass testing of Filipinos for the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is unnecessary for the meantime but assured the public that such a measure is among the government’s contingency plans for the pandemic.

Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said the measure can be done once there are enough resources for it, admitting challenges in the government’s testing capabilities for the disease.

“Sa ngayon po, hindi pa naman nakikitang kailangan nating gawin itong mass testing na ito pero nasa taalaan, nasa mapa, nasa radar, na kung sakaling dumating ‘yung panahon, and if we have enough resources and the government can do it, and it is already imperative for the government to do it, gagawin po natin ‘yan kung saka-sakali,” she said.

(For now, we don’t see the need to do mass testing but that is in our notes, map, and radar. When the time comes, and if we have enough resources and the government can do it, and it is already imperative for the government to do it, we will do that.)

Mass testing was the control measure adopted by South Korea, which did away with a lockdown and instead offered free tests to anyone who had been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case. The East Asian nation also tracks down the activities of those who are potentially exposed to the disease.

Due to the limited number of testing kits in the Philippines, the Department of Health earlier said that the COVID-19 test would be administered only to the elderly and patients who have been exhibiting symptoms of the disease including fever, headache, cough and colds.

Government officials earlier drew ire for having access to the test kit, even if they were asymptomatic.

Vergeire admitted that the government is having difficulties with its testing capabilities for COVID-19 but assured that more test kits, and medical gear for health frontliners are coming in.

“We are being challenged right now with our testing capacity and laboratory capacity,” she said.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Friday said around 125,000 test kits for the novel coronavirus will arrive in the Philippines this weekend from South Korea and China.

The Philippines as of Thursday has 217 cases of the respiratory disease that emerged from China late last year. The tally includes 17 deaths and 8 patients who recovered from the disease, said the health department.

To arrest the spread of the disease, President Rodrigo Duterte placed Luzon under lockdown until April 12 which prompted Filipinos to stay at home, and companies to adopt “work-from-home” schemes.