‘Coronavirus testing kits must be available in all hospitals’ – Zubiri

Aika Rey

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‘Coronavirus testing kits must be available in all hospitals’ – Zubiri
'Let's not be complacent,' says Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri

MANILA, Philippines – Senators on Monday, March 9, expressed dismay over the low number of available novel coronavirus testing kits, with Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel pointing out that kits must be available in “all hospitals.”

In a privilege speech on Monday, Zubiri cited a post from social platform Reddit where an unknown user said that a woman was denied testing at a hospital in Bonifacio Global City for not having a history of travel outside the Philippines nor close contact with a confirmed case.

“They should now allow all facilities, both private and public, to utilize and prepare and ready for such an outbreak. The key here is allowing DOH to make testing kits available at all hospitals,” Zubiri said, as the number of patients with coronavirus disease (Covid-19) spiked to 20.

“So anyone with coughs or colds will be tested. I don’t think this is excessive, Mr President. Let’s not be complacent. Imagine the superpowers…if they cannot control it, what more we?” the majority leader added.

So far, the Research Institute on Tropical Medicine (RITM) is the Philippines’ sole laboratory accredited by the World Health Organization (WHO) to test novel coronavirus samples.

At the Senate hearing on the economic impact of the virus, Rosanna Ditangco of the RITM said that there are only 2,000 kits available stock on hand.

Because of the limited testing kit supplies, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Monday acknowledged that there is a possibility of underreporting, although not intentionally.

“As soon as we get more, then we will be able to expand the coverage of who will be tested. Kasi ngayon ang tinitingnan natin ‘yong mga may sintomas, (Now, we are just looking at those who have the symptoms). Later on, we will do a calibrated approach in expanding who should be prioritized,” Duque said in a media briefing.

On Monday, the Senate adopted an unnumbered resolution urging the government to release all available funds, including those in the 2019 national budget, as part of an “economic stimulus” package to counter the effects of COVID-19.


At Monday’s Senate hearing, the Department of Health’s (DOH’s) Alethea de Guzman said that there will be some 4,500 extraction kits from the WHO that would be “good for 2,000 individuals.” Extraction kits are used to check whether the virus is present in an individual.

Senator Nancy Binay chided DOH for the low supply of testing kits in a Senate hearing.

“I don’t want to panic but you’re making me panic,” Binay said, referring to Duque’s earlier remarks about local transmission being just a question of “when.”

“Then maririnig namin sa inyo na we only have 2,000 testing kits out of our 100 million population. Hindi ba nakakatakot?” Binay asked. (Then we hear from you that we only have 2,000 testing kits out of our 100 million population. Isn’t this scary?)

De Guzman said that this is exactly the reason why DOH is requesting for a supplemental budget of at least P43 million, but she did not expound on whether it would be used to buy additional testing kits.

Binay said in response: “Kung ‘di tayo nagte-test, hindi natin malalaman.” (If we don’t test, then we won’t know if there are new cases.) 

In total, Duque had asked for P2 billion for the procurement of protective gear for health workers and another P10 million for face masks in the country. 

Senator Imee Marcos, at a media interview, expressed frustration over DOH, saying that the embattled department has a lot of issues to deal with, yet it has failed to procure testing kits now that they are needed.

“Asan ba ang listahan na paggagamitan na naman ng P2 billion na ‘yan? ‘Yung P43 million wala raw testing kit ni isa kaya nasa 2,000 na lang sila.… Ano bang mas urgent kaysa sa testing kit? Pambihira naman sila,” Marcos said.

(Where is the list of items where the P2 billion will be used? I was told that the P43 million will not be used for testing kits but they only have 2,000 in stock. What is more urgent than testing kits? What a shame.)

Marcos added that the department should submit the breakdown of their supplemental budget request so that Congress can act on it.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared a state of public health emergency on Monday and suspended classes from March 10-14. The Philippines has so far 20 cases, one of which involved a Chinese tourist who died– Rappler.com

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.