Philippines eyes 'game changer' machines, 30 more test hubs in COVID-19 fight


Posted at Mar 30 2020 11:11 AM

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MANILA - The Department of Health said Monday it was looking at tapping 30 additional laboratories and a "game changer" machine to detect novel coronavirus cases. 

The DOH has ordered COVID-19 cartridges from the US which will allow some 400 GeneXpert machines nationwide to test for COVID-19, said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III. 

The machines, which currently can only screen tuberculosis, could yield COVID-19 test results in just 45 minutes to an hour, he said. 

Duque said he already asked the US government to fast-track the April delivery of the cartridges. He said he would ask President Rodrigo Duterte later Monday to write a letter with the same request. 

"Malaking tulong po ito, game changer po ito kapag nabigyan tayo ng COVID-19 cartridges," he told DZMM. 
(This is a big help, a game changer if we will be given COVID-19 cartridges.) 

A soldier waits for health workers to board a free shuttle service following the suspension of mass transportation to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Quezon City, March 20, 2020. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters/File

The health department also hopes to accredit 30 additional laboratories, which still need to fix "minor deficiencies" so they could test for the respiratory pandemic, said Duque. 

"Live virus ito, hindi tayo puwedeng magpadalos-dalos dito dahil puwedeng magkaroon ng epidemic kung nagkaroon ng breach ng bio-safety standard [sa laboratoryo]," he said. 

(This is a live virus, we can't be reckless because there can be an epidemic if the bio-safety standard in the laboratory is breached.) 

The Philippines as of Sunday confirmed 71 deaths or about a 5-percent fatality rate out of its total 1,418 cases of the disease. The tally, which included 42 patients who were cured, could spike with the recent arrival of additional test kits, said the health department. 

The Philippine capital and the entire Luzon, home to about half of the country's 100 million people, is under lockdown until April 12 to contain the pandemic.