No mass testing in Philippines, says DOH, amid surge in COVID-19 cases

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 29 2021 06:58 PM

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Video courtesy of Department of Health.

MANILA — The Department of Health on Monday said it still won’t recommend the mass testing of Filipinos despite the surge in COVID-19 cases in the country.

“Wala po tayong plano na mag-mass testing. The government, since the start of this pandemic, has never advocated for mass testing kasi minsan, nagli-lead yan sa indiscriminate testing,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual briefing.

(We don’t have any plans for mass testing. The government, since the start of this pandemic, has never advocated for mass testing because sometimes, that leads to indiscriminate testing.)

She pointed out that other countries have also not done testing for the whole population.

Vergeire was asked about testing since majority of the cases being detected are asymptomatic, which may mean they might unwittingly infect other people.

“Sa kabuuan ng mga kaso, 95% are mild. About 2 to 3% are asymptomatic. Alam natin ang kapasidad ng asymptomatic cases that can transmit also. Kaya kailangan mabilis ang pag-detect, mabilis ang pag-isolate, mabilis ang pag-test," Vergeire said.

"Pero di pa rin ito basehan para i-test ang buong populasyon ng Pilipinas,” she added.

(Among the total cases, 95% are mild. About 2% to 3% are asymptomatic. We already know the capacity of asymptomatic cases to also transmit the virus. That is why detection should be fast, isolation should be fast, testing should be fast. But it should still not be the basis of testing the whole Philippine population.)

Last week, the country’s positivity rate or the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 out of all those tested was at 17.6%, according to the DOH’s Sunday COVID-10 Situationer Report.

It is much higher than the 5% positivity rate recommended by the World Health Organization. The international body said countries planning to reopen despite the pandemic should be able to maintain a positivity rate of 5% for two weeks prior.

A higher positivity rate may also mean that more tests should be done.

Vergeire said that while this is true, it is also important to bring down the number of people actually testing positive.

“Nag-increase tayo by as much as almost 50% ... in our testing in some of our LGUs kasi nga po nagbabahay-bahay na tayo. That is what we would want to go and employ, so we would help prevent in the increase in the number of cases natin,” Vergeire said. 

(We increased testing in some LGU’s by as much as almost 50% because we’ve been doing house-to-house visits. That is what we would want to go and employ, so we would help prevent increase in the number of cases.)

Vergeire also argued that testing is a one-time event and that people are continuously exposed, which is why they prefer “risk-based testing,” as employed by health workers during their house-to-house visits.

“Pumupunta sila sa bawat bahay. Ina-identify sino may sintomas, sino na-expose for the past days. Halimbawa, nakita nila there is a cluster in a household. Hindi na natin kailangan i-identify pa sino naging close contact. Lahat sila ite-test,” she said.

(They go to each house. They identify who have symptoms, who have been exposed for the past days. For example, there’s a cluster in a household. We don’t need to identify who are close contacts. All of them will be tested.)

Vice President Leni Robredo said Sunday the government must intensify its COVID-19 testing to get a more accurate number of virus cases.

On Monday, the daily tally of new COVID-19 cases again reached a record-high, at 10,016, pushing the country's total to 731,894. Active cases stood at 115,495. 

The DOH said earlier in the day that if Metro Manila and its 4 surrounding provinces are not placed under a stricter quarantine classification, active cases in the country may reach 430,000 by the end of April.

More than 650,000 have been vaccinated in the country against COVID-19 during the first 27 days of the government's inoculation drive. Up to 70 million are targeted to be vaccinated by the end of the year to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus.

The Philippines logged its first confirmed COVID-19 case on Jan. 30 last year in a Chinese woman who arrived from Wuhan City, China where the disease is believed to have first emerged in late 2019.