Citing improved testing capacity, the government says it can now test more asymptomatic persons in addition to individuals with symptoms or confirmed exposure to coronavirus cases.
Vince Dizon, the country's testing czar, announced the new strategy on Thursday, June 4, in a virtual press briefing.
"In previous months, we could only test Filipinos who manifested symptoms. With the bigger capacity nationwide, especially in [the] Visayas and Mindanao, we can now surpass this. Our goal now should be to look for and test asymptompatics," said Dizon in Filipino.
The government will do this in two ways. First, it will expand testing of asymptomatics through community-based testing, "especially in densely populated areas," like Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Cebu City, and Davao City. Second, all frontliners will be tested, whether or not they show symptoms of coronavirus.
These include not just health workers but transportation workers, law enforcers, office and mall guards, and cashier personnel at stores and supermarkets.
"All of them must be tested even without symptoms," said Dizon.
Previously, the government said it would focus testing on persons with severe COVID-19 symptoms, those with travel history to virus-hit countries, and confirmed exposure to positive cases.
Dizon said the new goal is attainable given the country's improved testing capacity, which now stands at 41,990 tests a day.
This new testing capacity takes into account the capacity of all 52 COVID-19 testing laboratories nationwide, according to Dizon.
Of these labs, 33 are government labs while 19 are private.
Biggest challenge: testing supplies. But Dizon admitted that the testing capacity is different from the actual number of tests conducted per day.
While the country can now do close to 42,000 tests, in actuality only some 10,000 tests a day get done. The actual testing capacity is not maximized due to the lack of testing equipment – like test kits and other necessary machines.
"Global supply of different materials and testing kits is a big challenge. Supply is very limited. It's a big problem not just for the Philippines but for other countries," said Dizon.
But he said he got assurances from the Department of Budget and Management that the country's "bulk orders of test kits" are arriving "next week."
"When these orders come, our supply to our labs will improve. We will be able to maximize our testing capacity," said Dizon. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.