MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) is eyeing at least 28,000 daily testing capacity to contain the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) by June, or right after the modified enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) is lifted in Metro Manila and other virus-affected areas, Secretary Francisco Duque III said.
He said the DOH had a daily testing capacity of 8,000 as of yesterday.
“What we want is about 28,000 (tests) daily… that will happen by June and hopefully we will be able to ramp up to that level our daily testing capacity,” Duque told reporters after inspecting a mass testing center in San Juan City.
Duque, however, said scaling up the numbers to more than double the current daily testing rate would not be easy, considering the intricacy of the testing system.
The DOH announced that the Philippines finally achieved its initial goal of conducting 8,000 tests per day.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire reported that testing laboratories across the country conducted 8,637 COVID-19 tests on May 10, days after the set target date.
Vergeire expressed confidence that the DOH could achieve its new target of conducting 30,000 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests per day by May 30.
She said they would employ various strategies to meet the new goal.
“We will maximize the testing capacity of accredited laboratories, streamline the certification of more laboratories, engage our private sector partners and utilize other testing strategies such as GeneXpert diagnosis,” she said.
GeneXpert is used to diagnose tuberculosis but it was also found effective in detecting COVID-19.
As of May 9, Vergeire said 26 COVID-19 laboratories across the country processed 7,215 tests in one day.
The backlog of test validation stands at 3,894.
The DOH has conducted a total of 173,144 tests since March.
NCR still epicenter; Visayas a hotspot
The DOH said there is a need to closely monitor the National Capital Region and Cebu City, which will be under modified ECQ beginning May 16 until the end of the month.
John Wong, an epidemiologist and member of the sub-technical working group on data analytics of the Inter-Agency Task Force, said “the IATF is seeing an outbreak that has equal number of new cases coming from NCR and the Visayas. Although NCR is still the epicenter, the Visayas is becoming a hotspot.”
Wong said the outbreak in Cebu City and Mandaue was the reason for recent uptick of COVID-19 cases.
He said while the cases increased after the initial ECQ was imposed, the epidemic curve in NCR started to flatten on April 22.
In modifying the ECQ in Metro Manila and other areas, the DOH said case doubling time for COVID-19 and critical care utilization were among the health factors taken into consideration by the IATF.
Vergeire said the IATF also looked into security, social and economic aspects before coming out with the decision.
Lawmakers yesterday called for more aggressive COVID-19 testing as more areas have shifted to general community quarantine.
Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin urged the DOH to expand its current testing operations to vulnerable individuals who are asymptomatic.
They said the health department has been limiting its COVID-19 testing protocol to symptomatic patients.
“While people gradually enter the new normal, equipped with the knowledge of personal hygiene and physical distancing, the fact remains that the unaccounted percentage of the population that is asymptomatic will definitely trigger a second wave of infections,” Garin said. – Edu Punay, Rhodina Villanueva