DOH scrambles to meet target COVID-19 testing capacity

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 29) — The Department of Health on Wednesday said that it may not achieve its target testing capacity of 8,000 per day by the end of April, but it is still exhausting all its resources to reach the number.

"Ang ating average ay umaabot tayo sa less than 5,000. Kahapon po, we had 4,900. Mukhang hindi po tayo aabot du'n sa 8,000 for April 30, though sinusubukan ho natin, dahil ngayon po, dumating na 'yung [test kit] cartridges natin," Health Spokesperson Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a televised briefing.

[Translation: Our current average testing capacity is less than 5,000. Yesterday, we had 4,900. It looks like we will not be able to reach the 8,000 target for April 30, though we are still trying, since our test kit cartridges have already arrived.]

The DOH said it encountered problems in services in the past week, like the week-long stoppage of operations of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.

"But anyway po, ito pong ating goal ay atin pong pilit na aabutin these coming days po; at all the resources have been pouring in coming from the private side and coming from the government," Vergeire said.

[Translation: But anyway, we will try our best to reach our goal in these coming days, as the resources are being provided by both the private sector and the government.]

The DOH added that it is preparing for other diseases that may arise in the rainy season to avoid further complications amid the pandemic.

"Nandiyan na po 'yung sinasabing dengue season; 'yung madalas na trangkaso; at iba pang sakit. Atin pong pinaghahandaan ito para hindi na po maipatong pa sa pandemya o sitwasyong meron tayo ngayon. Pinapaaalalahanan din po natin ang ating mga kababayan, lalong-lalo na ang ating mga nanay, ukol sa mga sakit na maaaring mangyari ngayong rainy season," Vergeire said.

[Translation: There will be dengue, flu, and other illnesses. We are preparing for this, so our current situation will not worsen. We are also reminding the public, especially our mothers, to be ready for these diseases that we may have this rainy season.]

There is still no evidence that the weather affects the spread of COVID-19, the Health spokesperson maintained.

Special team eyed for COVID-19 testing

In the same briefing, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said they are targeting the creation of a special team to increase the country's coronavirus testing capacity.

The DTI said it is working with private companies for the matter.

"By the way, ito pong mga private sector, sila ho 'yung nagsasabi na on their own, they will do 100 percent testing; kasi sila po ay merong capacity na magpa-test using the PCR (polymerase chain reaction). 'Yung iba po ay nag-iinvest din sa testing laboratories," Lopez said.

[Translation: By the way, some companies from the private sector are claiming that they will do 100 percent testing on their own, as they have capacity to test using the PCR; while other firms are investing on testing laboratories.]

"'Yun po ang kailangan natin — ang mapadami natin ang kapasidad — para mas marami pa tayong Pilipino na ma-test," he added.

[Translation: That's what we need — to increase our capacity — to test more Filipinos.]

On the other hand, the DTI noted that testing is not a general requirement for employees returning to work in areas under general community quarantine.

"It will be required doon lamang sa may symptoms, at 'yung may mga karamdaman; pero as a general requirement, hindi po ito required," Lopez said.

[Translation: It will be required only for those who are experiencing symptoms, or who already have illnesses; but generally, it is not required.]

"At 'yung mga kumpanya po, kanya-kanya po kung gusto nilang i-require ang pag-test muna ng lahat bago pumasok, o ibibigay 'yung test kapag may karamdaman na," he added.

[Translation: Also, it's the discretion of the companies — if they will require testing for their employees before they report back to work, or they will only do it when their workers are already experiencing symptoms.]

The DTI said it will release a draft of the protocol on minimum health standards, which it prepared with the Department of Labor and Employment, by Wednesday or Thursday. It added that both agencies have recommended PCR testing for suspect and probable COVID-19 cases.

"As you all know, our PCR testing is being expanded. May target na 20,000 per day ang tests by May 15, at 30,000 per day na tests by May 30. Pero kung tatanungin niyo kung required, hindi po siya required. 'Yan po ay i-lilimit muna sa may karamdaman," the Trade chief stated.

[Translation: As you all know, our PCR testing is being expanded. We have a target of 20,000 tests per day by May 15, and 30,000 per day tests by May 30. But again, such testing is not required. It is limited to possible patients.]

At present, the Philippines has 7,958 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 975 recoveries and 530 deaths.