Best in Asia? Palace says COVID-19 testing Philippines' 'biggest strength'

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 15 2020 02:22 PM

Navotas City residents undergo swab testing at a gymnasium behind the city hall on Aug. 20, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — The Philippines' coronavirus testing policy is its "biggest strength," Malacañang said Tuesday, going as far as to say that it is the best in Asia even as quarantine restrictions remained and cases continued to rise. 

The country's pandemic response deserves a "very good" grade, claimed Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque as the Philippines marked six months since it started imposing one of the strictest and longest lockdowns in the world.

"All in all, I think we deserve a very good grade, I would give it a grade of 85 percent," Roque said in his Palace press briefing.

Roque even went as far as to say that the Philippines will be among countries that would record the highest testing numbers.

"We clearly have the best testing policy in the whole of Asia and probably in the whole world because we have exceeded 3 million," he said.

"I think we will have the highest number of testing, one of the highest in the whole world. That's clearly our biggest strength," he added.

While Roque touted the country's virus testing efforts, he admitted that the government needs to "brush up" on its contact tracing efforts.

 'DOCTORS IN CHARGE'

Early on in the pandemic, President Rodrigo Duterte's administration faced public criticism for its handling of the pandemic as the 75-year-old leader relied mostly on retired military generals to implement policies.

Criticism heightened in late July as health workers cried for a "time out" due to the overwhelming number of COVID-19 cases amid eased quarantine levels, warning that the country's health system was on the verge of collapse. 

The call prompted Duterte last month to revert the capital region and neighboring provinces to a stricter quarantine just as the government— which employs a test, trace, treat approach— was urged to revisit its pandemic response strategy.

Malacañang on Tuesday dismissed criticism that the government was excluding medical professionals in crafting pandemic response policies and strategies, saying the Department of Health is still the lead agency.

"Wala pong hindi doktor ang nagbibigay ng polisiya pagdating sa COVID," Roque said.

(Doctors provide policies for COVID.)

While the Philippines has tested around 3 percent of its 100-million strong population for the virus, it has yet to report a flattened COVID-19 curve.

The lockdowns have also bruised the economy, which shrank by 16.5 percent in the second quarter, plunging into recession for the first time in nearly 30 years.

As of Sept. 14, the Philippines has confirmed a total of 265,888 infections, of which 53,754 are active cases. The country has also reported 207,504 recoveries and 4,630 deaths.