#MassTestingNow: Online petition calls for urgent action on PH coronavirus outbreak

Samantha Bagayas
Among the demands listed in the petition is the distribution of essentials and vitamins to barangays and the conversion of public spaces into temporary quarantine and health centers

MANILA, Philippines – As numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases continue to spike in the country, thousands of Filipinos are calling for urgent action, including mandatory mass testing nationwide, to address the outbreak.

In an online petition on Change.org, more than 78,000 Filipinos have signed the call led by a group named Mass Testing Now PH as of Sunday, March 22. The petition was created on March 16, a day before Luzon was placed on lockdown in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.

The lockdown is among the series of stringent physical distancing measures that the Duterte administration has put in place to combat the virus.

But on the ground, local governments have been left to figure out how exactly these measures would be implemented, as guidelines on the lockdown continued to be relayed piecemeal. Among the crucial tasks given to local officials included finding ways to ensure residents were fed and essential workers were brought to their workplaces.

The petition – translated in English, Bisaya, and Filipino – called on President Rodigo Duterte to act on the coronavirus outbreak, listing several demands to help in implementation. (READ: Filipino scientists call on government to conduct mass testing for coronavirus) 

Among the demands listed in the petition are the implementation of free. mandatory mass testing nationwide and the mobilization of local government units to set up local testing centers.

As of Sunday, the Philippines has already reported 380 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 25 fatalities – which experts think might be a far cry from the true picture due to the lack of testing. 

However, the Department of Health continues to maintain that there is no need to conduct mass testing for coronavirus in the country, despite advice from the World Health Organization to scale up efforts in Southeast Asia to stop the spread of infection.

Due to a shortage of test kits since the outbreak began, the DOH has been prioritizing testing for severe and critical COVID-19 cases. Just recently, more than 100,000 new test kits from China, South Korea, and Brunei have arrived in the Philippines to help enable health workers to test more people for the virus.

The petition also called on the administration to distribute free face masks, hand soaps, alcohol, drinking water rations, and vitamins in every barangay, as well as implement massive disinfection in high-traffic locations regularly.

It also said the military and police can aid in the sending test kits and basic goods to areas.

Helping the vulnerable and the marginalized

Among those feeling the brunt of the coronavirus outbreak are the healthcare workers and frontliners, who are experiencing a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and facilities.

The shortage of PPE during the outbreak has forced medical frontliners to improvise equipment using acetate as a safety precaution against the coronavirus. (READ: Filipinos find ways to improvise safety in the time of coronavirus)

With help from the government, the petition hopes necessary medical equipment such as face masks, gloves, and ventilators will be given to health workers. It said the administration can also urge private hospitals to share their stock of PPE, medical equipment, and facilities.

The petition said this might entail allocating available funds to aid the health sector and rechanneling intelligence and confidential funds of different government agencies to the DOH through a special session of Congress.

So far, the Philippines has 5 facilities in the country that can screen coronavirus samples. The country also has a testing capacity of 950 to 1,000 tests per day. (READ: Where are testing centers for coronavirus in the PH?)

Aside from provision of equipment, the petition urged the Duterte administration to convert public spaces such as gymnasiums and convention centers into temporary quarantine and health centers. These may also be used as evacuation centers for the homeless. (READ: Shelters kept unlocked for the homeless during coronavirus outbreak)

Helping workers and businesses

Hoping to help workers and small businesses, the petition also urged the President to require the private sector to give additional paid leaves for both contractual and regular workers, and possibly offer accommodation to health workers, as the country grapples with the outbreak. 

It added that guaranteeing cash grants for workers and small businesses, along with a payment freeze and disconnection moratorium for utilities will help Filipinos cope as some of their livelihoods have been put at a standstill.

Lastly, the petition called on the administration to set up a centralized information source, which will house daily briefings of health officials, important government announcements, statistical data, location information, and history of movement of confirmed patients in one place for transparency and public knowledge.

The petition continues to grow as it gains more traction and guns for at least 150,000 signatures. Those interested to pitch in their voice through the petition can sign here. – Rappler.com

Samantha Bagayas

Samantha Bagayas is a community and civic engagement specialist under MovePH, Rappler's civic engagement arm. Aside from writing stories about movements and civic initiatives, she works with movers and campus journalists across the Philippines to amplify issues affecting their communities.