MANILA — As the Philippines opens up its economy with the easing of quarantine measures, residents of communities with infection clusters and some workers will soon be allowed to be tested for COVID-19.
“Ngayon, pumapalo na ang ating mga capacity for testing ng mataas na rin - almost 20,000 in a day na. So, napagdesisyunan i-expand pa natin further ang ating testing,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual media briefing on Wednesday morning.
(Now that our testing is high, almost 20,000 a day, we have decided to further expand testing.)
At the start of the pandemic, only 4 subgroups of people were qualified to undergo polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, which is the gold standard of COVID-19 testing. These were those who had symptoms, and travel and exposure history.
The guidelines were further expanded in June to include two more subgroups - social workers and other frontliners, as well as members of the vulnerable population.
“Ang nadagdag natin, Subgroup G. Ito yung mga residents na nakatira doon sa mga may clustering o community transmission na na-identify na kailangan magkaroon ng localized intervention,” Vergeire said of the latest expansion.
(What we added is Subgroup G. These are the residents who live in those areas with clustering or community transmission that have been identified for localized intervention.)
The DOH has said before that there were clusters in communities in the National Capital Region and other regions. These are places where COVID-19 has infected a group of people.
Vergeire said residents can undergo PCR tests based on the recommendations of their local officials.
Three more subgroups will also be added amid the opening up of the economy.
“Meron na rin tayong frontliners in our tourist zones. Kasama na sila na pwede natin silang i-test. This is Subgroup H,” the health official said.
(We also have frontliners in our tourist zone. They can also be tested. This is Subgroup H.)
“There will also be this Subgroup I, which is the workers and employees of manufacturing companies and public service providers. Ito yung mga nasa economic zone na employees (These are the employees in economic zones),” she added.
“Then Subgroup J would be the economy workers,” she said, referring to workers in the service industry and other industries that are also allowed to operate.
Among the workers mentioned by Vergeire under Subgroup J are drivers, conductors, pilots, flight attendants, waiters, restaurant managers, supervisors, teachers, bank tellers, cashiers, store clerks, hairdressers, guards, and messengers. She said there will be more.
“Gusto natin kapagka slowly binubuksan natin ang ekonomiya, merong tayong safeguard ang mga empleyado at mga businesses na alam nila pwede silang i-test para masigurado din ng mga kliyente nila na walang impeksyon na nangyayari sa kanilang establishment,” she said.
(When we slowly open the economy, we want to have safeguards for our employees and businesses so they know that they can be tested, to assure their clients that the virus is not being spread in their establishment.)
Vergeire said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III already signed the new guidelines, which have been mentioned before by the DOH and the Inter-Agency Task Force for COVID-19.
She said they are just waiting for the order to be numbered and published online.
“Maybe in 1 to 2 days, it will already be posted and we can already implement,” Vergeire said.
While the country’s laboratories have struggled to scale up COVID-19 testing due to various setbacks, including broken equipment, the Philippines managed to reach an average of almost 21,000 tests daily a few days ago.
However, this is still far from the reported testing capacity of 50,000 a day. The DOH has repeatedly assured the public it is working to help laboratories address supply and manpower problems.
The Philippines has logged 57,545 confirmed COVID-19 cases, as of July 14, of which, 35,483 are active. Its first case was reported on Jan. 30 in a Chinese woman who arrived from the Chinese city of Wuhan where the disease was first detected.