Government steps up bid to test asymptomatic people

The government will further ramp up its efforts by conducting tests even to people who are not exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Malacañang said on Friday.

Government steps up bid to test asymptomatic people
ANTI-VIRUS SWAB. Red Cross worker (left), wearing a protective gear, conducts a nose swab on a locally stranded woman to find out if she is safe from the coronavirus disease. She is among the hundreds of LSIs displaced by the Luzon-wide lockdown who are staying in the Philippine Ports Authority compound seeking to be shipped back to their home provinces.
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This, after the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) approved the expansion of the testing strategy to fully utilize the 10 million reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PRC) test kits procured by the Budget and Health departments, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said.

“People who will be tested include not only those symptomatic and exposed to COVID-19 patients. We will also include those asymptomatic,” he said during the Laging Handa program.

Roque said testing targets, as well as implementation items and timelines of the expanded testing strategy, would be subject to guidelines jointly prepared by the National Task Force, the Department of Health, and the DOH’s Technical Advisory Group.

He said there was also a plan to include front-liners, including media workers and other government personnel, in the expanded targeted testing for COVID-19.

“This will still be based on the expanded testing strategy subject to guidelines that will be issued by the National Task Force and DOH,” Roque said.

On June 29, National Task Force against COVID-19 deputy chief implementer Vince Dizon announced the government was now aiming to test 10 million Filipinos in the next eight to 10 months.

On Friday, around 11 individuals representing various sectors asked the Supreme Court to order the government to conduct free mass testing for COVID-19.

Former Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, along with 10 other petitioners, filed a petition for mandamus before the SC to direct the current administration to conduct free mass testing, as they cited violations to Filipinos’ rights to health and information.

Roque was confident the high tribunal would junk the petition since the government was already conducting expanded targeted testing.

As of June 28, a total 636,291 individuals have undergone COVID-19 testing in the country.

In the petition of Taguiwalo and her co-petitioners, who included senior citizens, medical doctors, scientists, the LGBTQIA community, migrant workers, students, teachers, jeepney drivers, frontline workers, professionals and homemakers, they said:

“The omission of proactive and efficient mass testing amid the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that a systemic and normalized violation of the right to health engenders the impairment of other human rights and liberties, such as the rights to travel, livelihood or work, education, and access to justice.”

The petitioners, through lawyers from National Union of People’s Lawyers, said:

“Without accurate and timely information on the extent of community transmission of COVID-19, the government lacks proper grounds for any policy pronouncement. These irregularities lessen the confidence of the public in the ability of the DOH (and government in general) to deal with the pandemic with transparency and integrity,” the petitioners stressed.

Named respondents to the petition were Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who are all part of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Peace process chief Carlito Galvez Jr., the chief implementer of the national action plan against COVID-19, was also impleaded as respondent to the case.

Meanwhile, mass gatherings for religious services, travel agencies and some outdoor sports will now be allowed in areas under the general community quarantine (GCQ) starting July 10.

Metro Manila, Benguet, Cavite, Rizal, Lapu Lapu City, Mandaue City, Leyte, Ormoc, Southern Leyte and Talisay City, Cebu are under GCQ.

Outdoor sports will be allowed but based on the health guidelines to be issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Palace spokesperson Harry Roque said the Philippines’ COVID-19 task force had allowed religious gatherings involving 10 people or up to 10 percent of the venue capacity, while travel agencies are limited to the use of a skeleton workforce once they reopen to the public.

Roque said the decision to allow travel agencies was due to the request of travel agencies to reopen since many of their customers were asking for refunds.

However, the decision is that they should only have a skeleton workforce.

Roque also said the IATF had allowed the resumption of practices for basketball and football.

In an early Friday briefing, Roque said that IATF gave the green light to the protocols submitted by the Philippine Basketball Association and the Philippine Football Federation after they were recommended by the Philippine Sports Commission and the Games and Amusements Board.

Under a GCQ, practice sessions are limited to five athletes. In a Modified GCQ, as many as 10 athletes can practice.

But it was not known when actual competitions would be resumed.

Also, Philippine horse racing could be back by the third weekend of July, without the usual crowd and fans at the racing clubs, provided that the National Capital Region is already under a Modified General Community Quarantine.

Meanwhile, with the pandemic not yet contained and a swine virus from China threatening to spread worldwide, a leader of the House of Representatives called for the establishment of permanent quarantine facilities in densely populated areas, possibly in every region.

Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte said the “constant emergence of various highly contagious and seriously infectious kinds of illnesses,” made setting up of these such facilities a must.

Villafuerte said these facilities as outlined under House Bill 7005 should be fully equipped to provide for the needs of individuals who are quarantined “including, but not limited to, adequate food, clothing, means of communication, and competent medical care.”

“These facilities are designed for patients who are suspected to be infected or colonized with epidemiologically important pathogens that can be transmitted easily by airborne or droplet transmission or by contact with dry skin or contaminated surfaces,” Villafuerte said.

“The DOH is also mandated to provide adequate care for suspected patients” under the measure, he added.

HB 7005 or the proposed Mandatory Quarantine Facilities Act of 2020, mandates the DOH to be primarily responsible for “the operation, supervision, and management” of the quarantine facilities.

The location for every quarantine facility shall be identified by the DOH in close coordination with the Department of Public Works and Highways and concerned local governments.

In addition, the bill mandates that facilities should be easily accessible to a DOH hospital and be strategically located to ensure the safety of the community.

Topics: tests , coronavirus disease 2019 , reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction , Harry Roque
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