MANILA (UDPATE) - The health department denied Thursday that it had barred Marikina City from using its multimillion-peso laboratory for testing potential cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The city's P3.8-million molecular laboratory was "not rejected," said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, contrary to a statement by Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro.
"We will work with them and help them until they can attain the standards," Vergeire told ABS-CBN News.
Earlier Thursday, Teodoro, citing a supposed letter by the health department, said the agency rejected the laboratory because it should be housed in a "separate free-standing building."
Marikina set up a laboratory with the help of the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health, which earlier developed the first Filipino-made kits for testing COVID-19, according to the mayor.
Teodoro said Tuesday some COVID-19 patients had died before their disease could be confirmed by lab results. He urged the health department to treat his city as a "partner" in expanding the country's screening capacity.
Vergeire on the same day thanked Marikina for its initiative, adding that her agency and the World Health Organization had informed the city government of required adjustments for the laboratory to get certified.
The requirements and protocol are "strict to ensure that the virus will not spread to the community, the healthcare workers or laboratory technicians," she said.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said licensing the Marikina lab cannot be rushed, given stringent biosafety requirements.
Teodoro said he was willing to let the health department take over the laboratory's management.
"Kailangan ng tao ng testing, 'yon lang ang bottomline talaga. Kaya nga willing ako na sila na ang mag-assume, take over doon sa laboratory," he told reporters.
(The public just needs testing. That's really the bottomline. So I'm willing to let them assume, take over the laboratory.)
Among the country's current COVID-19 test hubs are the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, Baguio General Hospital in northern Luzon, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu and Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City.
The Philippines as of Wednesday confirmed 38 deaths and 26 patients who recovered out of its total 636 cases of the respiratory disease. The tally is expected to spike with the recent arrival of additional test kits, the health department said.
The entire Luzon, home to around half of the Philippines' 100 million people, is under lockdown until April 12 to contain the pandemic.