Philippines eyes 10 million coronavirus tests, can't test all Filipinos: health secretary

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 21 2020 10:00 AM | Updated as of Jul 21 2020 10:10 AM

A drive-thru testing center at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila opens for a soft launch on July 18, 2020, with regular operations starting on July 20, from Monday to Friday. The tests will be free to both Manila and non-Manila residents and shouldered by the city government. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — The Philippines might screen a bigger percentage of its population for the novel coronavirus than the US can, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said in an inter-agency task for meeting aired Tuesday.

Authorities have run some 1.120 million tests as of July 20. The health department eyes testing 10 million people or about a tenth of the country's 100 million by 2021, said Duque.

"Hindi naman po natin puwede i-test ang bawat mamamayan. Walang bansa po ang nakakagawa nito, kahit po ang pinakayaman tulad ng United States of America," he said in the task force's Monday meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte.

(We can't test every citizen. No country can do that, even the richest, like the United States of America.)

The US, which has the highest COVID-19 case count and death toll worldwide, has tested some 40 million people or "close to 9 percent of the total population", said Duque.

"Malalagpasan po natin iyon. Magiging mga 10 percent po tayo of the total population of the Philippines at 109 million. We might be able to reach 10 million Filipinos by 2021," he said.

(We can surpass that. We can test 10 percent of the total population of the Philippines.)

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The President said the coronavirus testing "is also a problem for the US."

"In America, a good number of people there do not want to be tested because they do not believe in it," he said.

The local screening system has a capacity of 74,000 daily tests and is yielding an actual output of 20,000 to 23,000 tests every day. Authorities eye increasing this to 32,000 to 40,000 tests a day, said Duque.

Increasing the number of tests is necessary as authorities trace those who had close contact with coronavirus patients, he said.

"In other countries they have this efficient iyong follow-up na contact tracing," said Duterte. "Dito sa atin, mahirap (it's difficult) but it can be done. But I said it's a herculean task to do it."