MANILA - While it would be good to test all Filipinos for COVID-19, Malacañang said Tuesday the Philippines simply cannot afford it.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier asked Health Secretary Francisco Duque III if the government has the capacity to test "every citizen in this country," to which the latter responded that it could not be done.
"If we cannot afford it why not? But the reality is hindi natin maa-afford ang testing sa lahat ng 110 million na Filipinos pero gagawa po ng hakbang ang gobyerno para mas maparami pa ang testing natin," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a Palace press briefing.
(The reality is we cannot afford to test all 110 million Filipinos but the government will find ways to expand our testing.)
There has been public calls for mass testing, with advocates clarifying that it does not mean testing all Filipinos.
The government, according to Roque, is already considering pooled COVID-19 testing to maximize the use of test kits.
With pooled testing, samples from a group of individuals would be tested as one.
If the results come back negative, everyone in the group is cleared of COVID-19. But if the results return positive, each individual will be tested separately for the virus.
"Easily, 25 million people can be tested using pooled testing at 'yan na po ang hakbang na ginagawa ng gobyerno dahil alam natin na 'pag na-test at nahanap natin sino ang may COVID-19 pupwede na sila i-isolate nang hindi na makahawa," Roque said.
(This is the step being taken by the government because we know that once we test and find who has COVID-19, we can easily isolate them so that they could no longer infect others.)
The Philippines' current COVID-19 testing program prioritizes symptomatic patients, vulnerable individuals, and frontliners with a high risk of contracting the virus.
Authorities have run some 1.12 million tests as of July 20. Duque said the health department eyes testing 10 million people or about a tenth of the country's 100 million by 2021.