Individuals with symptoms of coronavirus infection but have yet to be tested are now called “COVID-19 probable,” the Department of Health (DOH) said Friday, as it recommended prioritizing health workers, the elderly, and persons with comorbidities for testing.
With infections expected to rise until the second week of February, it is important to conduct confirmatory tests on these vulnerable sectors (A1 to A3) to give them proper medicines as early as possible, DOH spokesperson and Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.
“For A1 to A3, testing is recommended to be prioritized in situations where it can affect medical management,” she said during a virtual public briefing.
“Management both for those with symptoms who have been tested or have not been tested is the same, we will isolate or quarantine them if they have been exposed,” Vergeire said.
Persons exposed to symptomatic individuals who have yet to be tested are urged to isolate and look out for symptoms within 14 days, she added.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III ruled out free mass testing for COVID-19 as it would cost the government around P1.4 billion per day and up to P42 billion per month to test just 5 percent of the population.
Citing a document in the medical journal Lancet, Duque said random mass testing of 5% of the population per week only had a risk reduction value of 2%.
“If 5% of the population, how many are we? 100 million, so 5 million per week divided by 7. That’s 700,000 tests per day. The average P2,000 per test. 700,000 times P2,000 per test, how much is that?” he told ANC.
“That is P1.4 billion a day, that is P14 billion every ten days, that is P42 billion in one month,” he added.
Duque said this amid calls for free mass testing during the current surge in COVID-19 cases believed to be driven by the Omicron variant.
Also, the government simplified rules for COVID-19 vaccination as the country battled its biggest surge in coronavirus infections. Walk-ins are now allowed at inoculation sites, said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles.
“Blood pressure monitoring is no longer necessary for health screening, unless the individual getting vaccinated has history or symptoms of hypertension and other considerations based on the clinical judgment of the doctor at the vaccination site,” he said in a press briefing.
“You will no longer be required to show medical clearance or certification to get vaccinated,” added Nograles, acting spokesman for Malacañang.
He said these documents will only be required for individuals with an autoimmune disease, HIV, and cancer, or if a patient is bedridden, underwent transplant, or is getting steroid treatments.
“There are vaccines, the requirements are looser, so do not hesitate, get vaccinated,” Nograles said, addressing the public.
According to Duque, the budget to be earmarked for mass testing can be used for other projects.
“My God, I’d rather put that money for my healthcare worker benefits, for ayuda (cash aid) in communities that are doing granular lockdowns. That’s the way to put these huge sums of money to best use,” he said.
Duque said the DOH will meet with the Departments of Finance and the Budget and Management to discuss the funding of the special risk
allowance of healthcare workers for the year 2022.
On Wednesday, the DOH disclosed an updated policy making COVID-19 testing optional for asymptomatic close contacts of confirmed cases and persons with mild symptoms.
The country’s virus cases are expected to rise until the end of the month at the earliest or until the second week of February at the latest, according to the DOH.