MANILA, Philippines – The government plans to be able to do 30,000 coronavirus swab tests daily by May 30 to be able to contain the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, Bases Conversion and Development Authority chief and national testing czar Vince Dizon said on Tuesday, May 5.
The country is currently able to do only 5,000 reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) or “swab” tests a day, Dizon said at a televised briefing in Malacañang.
RT-PCR tests, which get samples through a nasal swab, are called the “gold standard” in testing for COVID-19, as it is more reliable than rapid test kits.
To do more swab tests requires more laboratories. Dizon said the government will raise the number of swab test laboratories in the country from the current 22 to 78 by the end of May.
Although there are currently more accredited COVID-19 laboratories in Luzon, Dizon said the government will begin prioritizing the Visayas and Mindanao in the coming days.
On Tuesday, the government opened its first “Mega Swabbing Center” at the Palacio de Manila along Roxas Boulevard in Malate. The center is expected to carry out 5,000 swab tests daily.
The hall of the Palacio de Manila has been filled with rows of testing booths, a way to protect the worker taking the swab samples. This center will be managed by the Bureau of Fire Protection and the Philippine Coast Guard, Dizon said.
The government plans to open 3 more “Mega Swabbing Centers” in the Greater Manila Area, each expected to be capable of 5,000 tests daily: the Enderun Colleges in Taguig City, the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, and the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
Who will do the tests?
Of course, this push for massive testing raises the demand for health workers, and the government admits the country’s health care workforce is already stretched thin.
Dizon said the government is making a “clarion call” for medical professionals and even students to join the testing effort.
“Ito ay panawagan sa lahat ng ating kababayan, lalong-lalo na sa mga involved sa medical profession, ang ating medical professionals, pati po ang nag-aaral, no? Kasi po nagtawag na tayo in fact sa ating mga universities para i-heed ang call para sa mga swabbers at iba pang mga magvo-volunteer para tulungan tayo dito sa napakalaking operation sa testing,” Dizon said.
(This is a call to all our countrymen, especially those involved in the medical profession, our medical professionals and even those studying, no? Because we have in fact called on our universities to heed the call for swabbers and other volunteers to help us out in this very massive testing operation.)
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea has urged workers in government agencies to volunteer in non-medical aspects of the testing effort, such as encoders and bar-coders, Dizon added.
To protect the workers, their shifts will only be 6 hours a day for two weeks, after which they will be placed in quarantine for the succeeding two weeks, during which a different set of workers will take over. They will return to work after this quarantine period, as the second set of workers take their turn in quarantine for the next two weeks.
The immediate priority for the swab tests will be some 25,000 repatriated overseas Filipinos currently in the Greater Manila Area. With inbound flights temporarily suspended, the country will only start letting in overseas Filipinos again when all the 25,000 in quarantine have been swab-tested.
The government earlier aimed to be able to do 8,000 coronavirus tests per day by April 30, but failed to reach this target.
Among the reasons for the setback – 43 staff members at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) contracted the virus in mid-April. The RITM is the country’s main coronavirus testing laboratory, and it was forced to significantly scale down operations for about a week.
Dizon, recently appointed as deputy chief implementer of the government’s policies on the pandemic, was appointed COVID-19 testing czar by President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, May 4.
His job is to carry out the government’s “Test, Trace, and Treat” or T3 program to fight the novel coronavirus.
As of Monday, May 4, the Philippines has recorded 9,485 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 623 deaths and 1,315 recoveries. – Rappler.com