PH to hit 15,000 coronavirus tests daily before May 15, task force adviser says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 24) — The extension of the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and several provinces will buy the government time to expand coronavirus testing, a health expert said Friday.

Dr. Tony Leachon, a health reform advocate and special adviser to the COVID-19 national task force, expects that within the next two weeks, the country will meet the target to conduct 15,000 coronavirus tests daily.

Leachon told CNN Philippines that test kits have been ordered from China and other countries, adding that delays were caused by the stockpiling of other states.

"Ine-ensure ko po sa inyo kasi kami po ang nagmomonitor po ng test kits at kaagad po nailalabas po agad natin (I assure you, because we are monitoring the test kits and we are able to release them immediately)," Leachon said.

"Sa tingin ko sa loob ng dalawang linggo, bago mag May 15 tayo po ay aarangkada na para makumpleto po ito,"Leachon said. "'Wag po tayong mainip kasi ang ginawa pong pag-extend ng ECQ ay para po sa pagdating ng test kits at oras na makarating po yun, iraramp up po natin," he added.

[Translation: I think within two weeks, before May 15, we will be able to speed up and complete this. Don't be impatient because the extension of the ECQ is for the arrival of test kits, and once that happens, we will ramp this up.]

President Rodrigo Duterte has extended the enhanced community quarantine in the regions of Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon until May 15. The same stay-at-home orders and suspension of most work and mass transportation will also remain in effect in "high-risk" provinces or those with high number of COVID-19 cases.

Leachon said the restrictions are necessary since the country has yet to flatten the curve of new infections, as earlier announced by the Department of Health.

The number of COVID-19 cases nationwide rose to 6,981 on Thursday with 462 deaths and 722 recoveries.

The time it takes for COVID-19 cases to double has slowed down from three days in March to five days this week, but Health Spokesperson Ma. Rosario Vergire said it is too early to say the curve has flattened.

The DOH recorded only 111 new infections on Wednesday, the lowest in two weeks, but one reason could be the scaling down of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine's operations after 43 of its employees tested positive for COVID-19.

"I think yung pag-extend po ngayon ay tama po yun para maihanda po natin yung RITM saka iba pang testing centers (I think the extension of the enhanced community quarantine is right so we can prepare RITM and other testing centers)," Leachon said.

Vergeire said that last week, the country's 17 accredited testing laboratories were already processing 4,000 test samples last week. From April 19 to 21, the number went down to 2,700 tests daily. But starting Wednesday, the testing capacity slightly went up to 3,200.

She is confident it will reach 4,000 tests by Saturday, when the RITM is expected to resume full operations. The DOH earlier said it is eyeing 8,000 tests per day by end of April.