'Biosafety threat' temporarily halted COVID-19 testing: health dept


Posted at Mar 24 2020 08:40 AM | Updated as of Mar 24 2020 10:31 AM

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A "biosafety threat" temporarily stopped the testing of potential new coronavirus cases earlier this month, the health department said Tuesday, following an increase in the cases of the respiratory disease.

The Research Institute of Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa, which used to be the country's sole COVID testing hub, suspended tests "about last week or 2 weeks ago" to fix its laboratory, said Health Secretary Francisco Duque.

"Nagkaroon ng threat sa kanilang biosafety lab. Live virus itong hinahawakan nila," he told DZMM.

"Nagkarooon sila ng malaking peligro. Naghinto muna sila ng testing nila, ni-reconfigure nila ang kanilang laboratory para siguraduhing ang safety standard ay 'di malalabag," he added.

(There was a threat at their biosafety lab. They are handling a live virus. There was a big danger, they testing was stopped, they re-configured their laboratory to ensure their safety standards would not be violated.)

It was not immediately clear how long the RITM suspended its testing.

The Philippines confirmed its first patients of the respiratory disease -- all tourists from China -- between January and the first week February. It took until the first week of March before the fourth case, a Filipino, was announced.

Authorities confirmed Monday 82 new cases of COVID-19, the biggest daily increase so far, which took the nationwide total to 462. The tally included 33 fatalities and 18 patients who recovered.

Despite the lockdown of the entire Luzon to curb the pandemic, cases will continue to increase with the arrival of new test kits that will be distributed to laboratories in the region which recently secured government approval to run tests, said Duque.

The subnational laboratories for COVID testing, he said, included the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao Cit, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu, the Baguio General Hospital in northern Luzon, the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila and the Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City.

DZMM, March 24, 2020