PH testing czar rejects COVID-19 mass testing, backs 'targeted' screening

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 06 2021 04:47 PM

Residents undergo COVID-19 rapid antigen test onboard the "Swab Cab", a mobile COVID-19 testing facility launched by the Office of the Vice President, in Barangay Potrero in Malabon City on March 30, 2021. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File 

MANILA — An official leading the country's COVID-19 response rejected Tuesday calls for mass testing during the lockdown in the Greater Manila area, and instead stood by "targeted" screening for the respiratory disease. 

Experts are "united" in urging against the testing of the whole population, said Vince Dizon, deputy chief implementer of the National Task Force Against COVID-19. 

"Ang very clear na sinasabi ng mga eksperto nga, dapat risk-based at targeted ang testing," he said in a press briefing. 

"Ibig sabihin noon, kailangan mayroong guidelines o merong nag-a-assess kung kailan ang isang tao ay dapat magpa-test. Hindi pupuwede na ang tao mismo ang magde-determine kung siya ay dapat magpa-test o hindi." 

(The statement of experts is very clear, that testing should be risk-based and targeted. It means that there should be guidelines or someone assessing whether or not a person should get tested.)

People who should get screened are those who recently went to areas where COVID-19 cases are prevalent, and those who had close contact with people experiencing symptoms or who test positive for the novel coronavirus, said Dizon. 

"Ang problema kasi sa concept ng mass testing is... puwedeng ako mismo ang magdesisyon kung kailan ako dapat magpa-test. Ang sinasabi ng mga eksperto, dapat guided ang desisyon na 'yon," he added. 

(The problem with the concept of testing is that I can decide when I should get tested. Experts are saying that decision should be guided.)


The accuracy of tests depends on one's timeline of catching the disease. For instance, there is only a 33-percent probability of getting positive test results on the third day of sickness and 63 percent on the fifth day, said Dr. Edsel Salvaña, a member of the group that advises the COVID-19 task force. 

"Kaya po talaga because our tests are not perfect and are time-dependent, importante po talaga iyong timing noong testing at kung sino po iyong tini-test natin," he said in the same briefing. 

(Because our tests are not perfect and are time-dependent, the timing and who we test are important.) 

The Philippines runs about 52,000 tests a day, said Dizon. 

Authorities gave the go-signal for the procurement of antigen test kits for 30,000 additional tests daily in the Greater Manila area and nearby Batangas and Pampanga provinces. 

Metro Manila and surrounding Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal provinces are under enhanced community quarantine, the toughest of 4 lockdown levels, until April 11. 


Palace spokesman Harry Roque said state medical insurer PhilHealth covers the cost of RT-PCR tests for medical and economic frontliners, those who were exposed to COVID-19, and people with symptoms of the respiratory disease. 

The coverage of COVID-19 tests is the "single largest expenditure" of PhilHealth, he said. 

"At most, ang babayaran n'yo po, P300... Hindi naman po tama na sabihin natin na hindi tayo nakapagbibigay ng libreng testing sa ating mga kababayan," he added. 

(At most, you will pay P300. It is not correct for us to say that our compatriots are not given free testing.) 

The Philippines has so far confirmed 803,398 coronavirus infections, of which 143,726 were active as of Monday. 

Video courtesy of PTV