The Department of Trade and Industry is cracking down on physical and online stores selling self-test COVID-19 antigen kits which are yet to secure government approvals for commercial trade.
“They are not even covered by the “Suggested Retail Price” of the DTI. And to think that there were reports of overpricing of antigens is definitely illegal,” said Trade assistant secretary for consumer protection group Ann Claire Cabochan.
She added the DTI was one with the Department of Health on regulating the proper pricing for RT-PCR and antigen testing kits which are available only through proper channels like the hospitals, clinics, and laboratories.
COVID test kits administered by hospitals, clinics, and laboratories are covered by the price cap issued by the DOH in August 2021.
The CPG noted that surge in the demand for antigen kits has had online merchants abusing the platform to sell the self-test kits at prices far above the cap imposed on kits in hospitals and other COVID facilities and laboratories.
Cabochan said there must be proper certification from the Food and Drug Administration for the product to be legally sold on a commercial basis in the Philippines.
“We will continue to go after these sellers. The DTI and DOH will launch a joint investigation on self-test kits that are sold through illegal channels,” she said.
Those caught violating the DOH issuance will be penalized and face sanctions.
Cabochan added that the FDA was speeding up the approval of requests by some pharmaceutical companies for certificate of product approval (CPR).
Meanwhile, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) would review the existing price cap on RT-PCR and antigen kit for possible slash in prices.
“And we also plan to come up with SRP for antigen test kits only, since these are self-test kits that can be performed at home, unlike RT-PCR that needs the intervention of laboratories,” Lopez said.
The DTI is mulling to announce the SRP for antigen kits by this Friday, January 15.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health has reminded the public on what steps to take depending on their symptoms and the result of their COVID-19 antigen test.
The DOH issued the following guidelines:
• If you tested negative in the antigen test but are symptomatic, you should still isolate immediately and have a RT-PCR test done.
• If you have been exposed to a COVID-positive but asymptomatic person but tested negative in the antigen test, quarantine first and get an RT-PCR test on the fifth day after exposure.
• If you tested positive for COVID-19 but do not have your own room and toilet, you should go to an isolation facility.
Home isolation is only for those who have their own room and toilet.
Those exposed and considered close contacts may also quarantine at home if they have no symptoms and are not part of the vulnerable sector.
The DOH likewise reminded the public to only use test kits approved by the Food and Drug Administration and that only trained health professionals should administer the test.
In related developments, an official overseeing the Philippine COVID-19 testing program apologized for the slow turnout of test results, as the country reported record infections.
Presidential Adviser for COVID-19 Response Vince Dizon said the release of results was “anywhere between 48 hours up to three days.”
In a televised briefing, Dizon said the “turnaround time for our testing is long. The first reason for that is many of our compatriots are getting tested because many are testing positive, and many become close contacts.”
He noted that RT-PCR screening was not automated and needed to be facilitated by technicians.
“We apologize to our compatriots. Many of our technicians, medical and laboratory technicians, are testing positive, too, and they need to isolate and cannot report for work. That’s our biggest challenge right now,” he said.
In response, the COVID-19 task force shortened to five days the quarantine period for coronavirus-positive health workers who are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic, Dizon said.
Medical professionals who are close contacts no longer need to be isolated if they have no COVID-19 symptoms, he said.
Dizon noted the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also shortened the isolation period as cases spiked.
Swabbing the nose with a rapid antigen test will not reliably detect the Omicron variant in the first few days of an infection, so manufacturers should seek US approval to allow users to safely collect samples from the throat as well, according to an infectious diseases
People can already transmit Omicron to others when it has infected their throat and saliva but before the virus reaches their nose, so swabbing the nostrils too early in the course of infection will not pick it up, Dr. Michael Mina, formerly of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and now chief science officer at eMed, said during a news conference Thursday.
The US Food and Drug Administration has expressed concerns over the safety of self-throat swabbing.