DOH: Public-private group helping ramp up RT-PCR testing

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 25) — A public-private initiative has been launched to support efforts to expand RT-PCR testing for COVID-19 in the country, the Department of Health announced on Friday.

The Task Force T3, or Test, Trace, and Treat, will "identify the most urgent requirements for PCR machines, testing kits, and fixed and mobile labs, and install these in priority hotspots as soon as possible," said the DOH.

Considered by the DOH as the "gold standard" in COVID-19 testing, RT-PCR (real-time polymerase chain reaction) now accounts for around 4,500 a day being conducted in local health facilities.

With the Task Force T3 support, this number is targetted to reach 30,000 tests daily by May 30.

RT-PCR tests are used in confirmatory testing for the coronavirus, which helps medical authorities in isolating and treating patients and thereby preventing a wild spread of the virus.

There are currently 18 public and private laboratories across the country conducting RT-PCR tests.

READ: PH now conducts 4,500 COVID-19 tests per day with additional accredited laboratory

The expanded capacity, to be made possible by the new task force, will be spread among regions in order for test swabs to be delivered to the nearest laboratories, leading to the timely delivery of results, the department explained.

READ: Expert says PH must expedite mass testing with both rapid and PCR tests

The task force was convened by the department and Inter-Agency Task Force — National Task Force (IATF-NTF) with support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Its initial members from the private sector are Unilab, AC Health/Qualimed, MPIC Hospital Group, the Philippine Red Cross, and the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation.

"The DOH welcomes the private sector's support and participation in aggressively expanding testing capacity in the country, as well as in efforts to ramp up isolation and treatment," said Health Secretary Francisco Duque.

An aggressive push for testing can also mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the country's economic well-being, said COVID-19 chief response implementer Carlito Galvez Jr.

With this approach, the Philippines "can locate, isolate and care for COVID-19 carriers and those who are sick in order to keep our communities safe enough to resume a level of economic activities. This is to further avoid a humanitarian crisis," he said.

As the country continues its fight against the deadly coronavirus, President Rodrigo Duterte this week extended the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and CALABARZON, and other "high-risk" provinces until May 15.

Prior to the extension, the strict enhanced quarantine covering all of Luzon island was scheduled to end on April 30.

Based on 2018 national data, Metro Manila contributes the largest share of the country’s economy at 36 percent, followed by the Calabarzon region with 17 percent, and Central Luzon just north of Manila with 10 percent.

All low-risk and middle-risk areas in Luzon and elsewhere in the country are placed under general community quarantine also until mid-May, which has less strict rules compared to the enhanced quarantine.

To date, the Philippines has 7,192 confirmed cases of COVID-19. 477 have died from the illness, while 762 have recovered.