With mass testing for COVID-19 set to be conducted two days after the scheduled end of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) on April 12, Senator Win Gatchalian favors extending the quarantine period by at least two weeks. He said mass testing will happen on April 14 and lifting the ECQ before that date will undermine the reliability of mass testing results and would only accelerate the spread of the virus. The two-week period, he said, will also need to analyze test results.
Gatchalian said mass testing will paint a clearer picture of COVID-19 spread in the country and help track down those who are infected so they can at once be isolated or ordered quarantined. The senator emphasized that mass testing should have a targeted approach and prioritize those who have been exposed to COVID-19-positive patients such as those Persons under Monitoring (PUM), Persons under Investigation (PUI) and the frontliners. Gatchalian said mass testing will also cover asymptomatic carriers who may be unknowingly spreading the disease. He cited the case of Iceland, where laboratory mass testing revealed that around 50 percent of cases have no symptoms.
He said this is a better approach to flatten the curve and at the same time it would lead to a more efficient use of resources and avoid further strain to the country’s already overwhelmed health care system.
“Without mass testing, we are totally blind. And when we are blind, the risk is higher of spreading the virus again, thereby wasting the 30-day Enhanced Community Quarantine”, Gatchalian explained.
“Bagama’t may ilang araw na lamang ang natitira bago magwakas ang enhanced community quarantine, nakikita nating patuloy pa rin ang pag-akyat ng bilang ng mga pasyenteng may COVID-19 sa bansa. Kaya dapat ipatupad pa rin ang social distancing habang mayroong mass testing”, Gatchalian pointed out.
The senator added that it is important for the country to have a sustainable capacity for mass testing and urged the Department of Health (DOH) to fast-track capacity-building and accreditation of testing laboratories.
The senator said that mass production for locally-produced testing kits developed by the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) will boost the country’s testing capacity. Between April 4 to 25, a certain number of testing kits that can do up to 26,000 tests will be rolled out. There is also an-going production of testing kits that can perform up to 120,000 tests.
Manufacturer Manila HealthTek Inc. is making these kits commercially available at P1,300, significantly cheaper than the ones currently used in hospitals, which can cost by up to P8,000. According to Gatchalian, this would give LGUs a more cost-efficient option in procuring their own test kits.