The Philippines has met its goal of increasing its testing capacity to 30,000 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) tests per day, ahead of the May 30 target, the Palace said Monday.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the country was able to increase its capacity to 32,100 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests per day on May 20, six times more than it was on April 15.
He also said the country is aiming to have 66 COVID-19 testing laboratories in the country by the end of the month.
READ: Mass testing: Private initiatives, not government
The government plans to test up to 2 percent of the country’s population to determine the extent of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Philippines.
More than 272,000 individuals have been tested for COVID-19 as of May 23, according to the Department of Health's online tracker.
Still, a World Health Organization (WHO) official on Monday urged the government to speed up tracing people who came in close contact with COVID-19 patients, with less than a week left before it’s expected to ease lockdowns across the country.
“I would say we are slow... we need to push harder and we really need to work harder,” Dr. Socorro Escalante, WHO acting representative, told an online forum by the Philippine College of Physicians.
Contact tracing is usually initiated after test results are confirmed and sent to local epidemiology offices, a process that takes 13 days from the time the patient goes to a hospital.
“By that time, we have already spread the infection to many people and that’s really very, very late,” said Escalante, who urged the government start looking for close contacts once a suspect case visits a hospital and not wait until lab results were confirmed.
The government has been ramping up its COVID-19 testing capacity by accrediting more laboratories that are capable of detecting SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19.
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“We were able to meet 30,000 PCR tests per day. The original target is 30,000 by May 30 but on May 20, we reached 32,100 tests per day, surpassing our target,” Roque said.
Roque credited the government’s Test, Trace, Treat or T3 program linking the government and the private sector for the increase in the testing capacity.
He said the government is working to improve the efficiency of the testing laboratories to maximize their capacity.
The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday reported 284 new cases, bringing the total number of infections to 14,319. Of the new cases, 171 or 60 percent came from Metro Manila and 70 cases or 24 percent came from Central Visayas.
Five new deaths were reported, bringing total fatalities to 873, while 74 new recoveries were posted, bringing to 3,323 the number of patients who survived the disease.
Senator Panfilo Lacson urged Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to resign in view of the high number of deaths and the department’s inefficiency in dealing with the pandemic.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said the public was losing its confidence in the government’s COVID-19 response because of Duque’s inadequate leadership.
She added, however, that the problem goes beyond one individual and represents an institutional and systems failure.
"Our health systems need a drastic and urgent overhaul and improvement for us to more effectively respond to COVID-19,” she said.
A government adviser, on the other hand, said the Philippines is flattening the COVID-19 pandemic curve since the health care system is now able to cope with new cases.
"Our curve is flattening, that’s what I can tell you. I’ve seen the curve in international comparisons and we’re actually flattening the curve," Ted Herbosa, who also serves as the executive vice president of the University of the Philippines, told ANC.
"We’re not the best curve in the Asian region but it’s actually lower than Indonesia. And the other countries are doing much better only because their health systems are much different than ours."
The decreasing number of deaths, the rise of recoveries from the illness, and the slow doubling time of COVID-19 cases are "all good signs that the curve has flattened," Herbosa said.
READ: New wave of cases feared
Meanwhile, former Health secretary Janette Garin suggested the government buy automated machines to ramp up COVID-19 testing.
The machines would also ease the jobs of overworked medical technologists, she said.
Meanwhile, the Filipino Nurses United (FNU) said the high number of COVID-19 infections among health workers – 2,369 as of May 24 – is a serious concern that must be addressed by the government.
In a statement, FNU president Maristela Abenojar said the number comprising 17 percent of the current total 14,035 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country is significantly higher than the rate of 2 percent to 3 percent of infected health care workers in the Western Pacific Region.
The group also disputed the statement from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases that the mortality among front liners has been arrested due to the ample supply of personal protective equipment.
In other developments:
* Until a vaccine or medicine is invented, mass testing is a key step to find the virus that is invisible to the naked eye, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers Philippines said Monday. “Starting the school year without conducting mass testing is a sure recipe for disaster,” ACT said. Even before the June 1 official back-to-work schedule, many teachers in the provinces have been made to render service outside of their homes while no mass testing has been done, the group said.
* Senator Christopher Go filed a bill seeking to assemble a group of medical and health-related professionals who will help the government respondto medical and health care needs during national emergencies. Senate Bill No. 1451, also known as the “Medical Reserve Corps Act of 2020,” seeks to establish a Medical Reserve Corps composed of all persons who have degrees in the field of medicine, nursing, medical technology, and other health-related fields but have yet to have their respective licenses to practice for reasons such as, but not limited to, not having taken or passed the licensure examinations in their respective professions.
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