PH aims to secure 500,000 antigen tests to augment COVID testing, tracing

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 31 2021 01:04 PM | Updated as of Mar 31 2021 01:27 PM

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MANILA — The Department of Health on Wednesday said the Philippine government is planning to get half a million antigen test kits to quickly test and trace COVID-19 cases in the country.

This as the Philippines has seen record-high daily tally of cases for the past weeks. The total number of cases in the country is now at 741,181 while the active cases have ballooned to 124,680 as of Tuesday.

“National government is procuring. Our initial discussion is a total of 500,000 antigen tests. Ito ay inaayos na (This is already being tended to),” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual briefing

Vergeire said testing czar Vince Dizon is looking at an initial 30,000 antigen test kits that will arrive at “the soonest possible time” once financial documents are in order.

“Pangalawa, nakausap natin kahapon ang WHO (World Health Organization) at nanghingi tayo ng tulong. Sila rin po ay magbibigay ng kaukulang assistance worth 20,000 rapid antigen test kits na sabi natin urgent,” she said.

(Secondly, we talked to the WHO yesterday and we asked for help. They will also give assistance worth 20,000 rapid antigen test kits, which we said is urgent.)

She said they are hoping that the kits will arrive before the weekend so that they can be used by local government units (LGU) with the National Capital Region (NCR) Plus Bubble, which includes nearby provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal.

Vergeire explained that the kits will be used by the LGU and health workers as they do the house-to-house checking for people with symptoms or exposure to COVID-19 patients.

Only those antigen tests will be included in the official tally of cases in the country. Vergeire said they will disaggregate the data so the public can see how many tested positive from the antigen tests. She said antigen tests cannot be used for border or work screening.

The gold standard for COVID-19 testing is still polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. Antigen tests are said to be less accurate but are more useful at checking for current infection than rapid antibody tests. Antigen tests are also cheaper and quicker to use than PCR tests.

The health official also said that existing guidelines allow the use of antigen tests during outbreaks such as what is happening now in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. Current protocol dictates that a positive antigen test requires a confirmatory PCR test. Vergeire told ABS-CBN on Tuesday that the government might release a separate issuance on the use of antigen tests to actually confirm cases.

Vergeire said they are now working with the local government units on how to report, record and issue certificates for the results of antigen tests.

The health official dismissed claims that the antigen tests will be used to manipulate COVID-19 cases numbers. She said it will definitely result in more tests being recorded but that the government has always been transparent in their official count of COVID-19 cases.