DOT to pilot saliva tests for tourists soon, says Puyat

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 20 2020 12:06 AM

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MANILA - The Department of Tourism will soon pilot saliva tests to detect COVID-19 among incoming travelers as it continues to look for more affordable alternatives to the RT-PCR test, while efforts to open the country’s tourism industry persist amid the pandemic.

“According to our survey, 77 percent want to travel in the absence of a vaccine. Pero ngayon naman, namamahalan sila sa RT-PCR. So we are continually looking for alternatives na as effective as the RT-PCR, pero more affordable,” Tourism Sec. Bernadette Romulo-Puyat told senators during Monday’s budget hearing.

“Ipa-pilot din namin soon ‘yung saliva (test for COVID-19),” she added.

Sen. Richard Gordon urged Puyat to tell President Rodrigo Duterte to nudge the Department of Health in order to get the health expert panel’s review of the saliva test moving.

“The saliva test should be a lot more dramatically low (in cost) than the RT-PCR of Red Cross, which is already the lowest,” Gordon said. 

An RT-PCR test conducted by Red Cross costs around P3,500, relatively cheaper than those done in private hospitals, which could go up to as high as P6,500 for faster results.

“The airports in Japan are using the saliva test we are going to use,” Gordon said.

“If we do this, napakadali. Ni hindi mo kailangan ng PPE. In four hours you have your test. We’re ready, and all we’re waiting for is the greenlight from the scientists, and they say it’s gonna take another two weeks,” he added.

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Once a more affordable COVID-19 test which yields faster results becomes available, Gordon suggests government officials to go to Boracay to encourage domestic tourism.

“My colleagues in the Senate should go to Boracay and show the whole world, the cabinet should go to Boracay. And our Miss Universes should go to Boracay, at the same time, to show that it is safe,” he said.

“That sends a very strong signal to the public the moment we do that, you open the gates that Boracay is open to business again,” he added.

The DOT is also conducting a pilot test on detecting COVID-19 using antigens. In the meantime, the agency has requested the DOH for COVID-19 testing centers in tourist destinations.

“Marami ang still hesitant to open kung wala silang COVID (testing) lab,” Puyat said.

The Department of Tourism meanwhile said Ilocos provinces and Baguio will be reopening its doors to travelers from Luzon, including general community quarantine areas like Metro Manila.

Ilocos Norte will welcome tourists from Oct. 20, while Baguio will follow on Oct. 22 to Oct. 23, and Ilocos Sur on November 15, said Puyat.