DOH says to speed up COVID-19 testing with more labs, 120,000 test kits

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 21 2020 11:40 AM | Updated as of Mar 21 2020 12:47 PM

MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) on Saturday assured the public that it was “accelerating its COVID-19 testing capacity” as the number of cases in the Philippines continued to rise. 

In a press release, the agency said it was expecting the arrival of 120,500 test kits from different countries such as China, South Korea and Brunei. This is in addition to the remaining 1,300 kits at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and the 2,050 test kits that came earlier from China and South Korea.

Earlier, it announced that there are now 5 subnational laboratories processing the COVID-19 testing - RITM, Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu and Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City. 

The Western Visayas Medical Center and the Bicol Public Health Laboratory are also being prepared for testing.

In addition to the University of the Philippines - National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH), five private hospitals are also being assessed by the DOH and the World Health Organization as possible extension laboratories. 

These are the molecular biology laboratories of St. Luke’s Medical Center - Global City, Makati Medical Center, The Medical City, St. Luke’s Medical Center - Quezon City and Chinese General Hospital.

“More laboratories will be assessed across all regions after this first round is completed,” DOH said.

“We must underscore the importance of laboratory certification due to the hazards of handling a live virus. The Department is exercising utmost care in certifying more sub-national laboratories and ensuring that biosafety measures are in place,” said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who is currently under quarantine after a DOH official tested positive for COVID-19. 

The agency is also looking at tapping lower-level laboratories to help in processing samples.

The DOH also said that the six test kits approved by the Food and Drug Administration can be purchased and used by hospitals with laboratory capability.

It reiterated that it does not recommend mass testing for non-symptomatic people. 

“Once increased testing capacity is in place, testing of mild cases and patients under investigation (PUIs) can resume,” the DOH said.

Duque said he is optimistic that the country can surpass the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I am most grateful for the heroism of our health workers and frontliners for their dedication to overcome our present situation,” he said.

There are 230 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines as of Friday. Of that number, 18 have died and 8 have recovered.

Luzon remains on lockdown with airports and public transportation closed as government attempts to slow down the spread of the virus.