There's a pleasant whiff in the fight against the spreading coronavirus in the Philippines, with more laboratories activated for testing submitted cases and reports China would be sending a team of medical experts to help Manila fight the pandemic.
READ: Local biz back use of COVID rapid test kits
This despite the number of positive cases of the virus in the country blowing past the 2,000 mark with 538 new cases on Tuesday, a new daily record high.
The Department of Health also reported 10 more new deaths to the disease, bringing the total to 88, with no new recoveries and the aggregate staying at 42.
The World Health Organization (WHO) attributed the “quite high” proportion of deaths in the Philippines to its testing strategy, where severe cases are prioritized.
In a media breifing, Dr. Matthew Griffith, WHO Western Pacific Region Technical Advisor for COVID-19 Incident Management Support Team, said the high death rate was due to the Philippines' testing priority.
Strategically, he noted that this was dictated by availability of of reagents, supplies and travel history of suspected COVID-19 patients.
Griffith also dismissed claims that deaths of COVID-19 patients in the Philippines was due to lack of ventillators.
In related developments, the government is now expediting the process of transforming maritime vessels, hotels, and other private establishments into quarantine and isolation facilities, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said on Tuesday.
Nograles, in a virtual news conference aired over government-run PTV-4, said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) had directed concerned government agencies to hasten the identification of establishments that would be used for quarantine purposes.
Celia Carlos, director of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), the country's national reference laboratory for infectious and tropical diseases, said Tuesday they could now run up to 1,000 COVID-19 tests from 300 daily previously.
With more laboratories within RITM doing the COVID-19 tests, Carlos said they had expanded their testing capacity.
"We can now process 900 to 1,000 tests per day,” she said, adding that with the testing kits coming in, the RITM was able to shorten the turnaround time for the test results.
“It has been 48 to 72 hours in the last few days. This is a big improvement and we hope to sustain this,” Carlos said.
She said the RITM also validated test kits donated to the Philippines, explaining this began with the review of literature or studies on the kit.
Once it passes the initial review, the kits are then subjected to laboratory validation.
“The new kits are compared to the gold standard -- the kits from the WHO,” Carlos said.
The new kits, she said, must be able to detect COVID-19 in samples with different levels of the virus.
If it is able to detect COVID-19 from the sample with the lowest concentration, the test kit is endorsed by the RITM.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said testing kits procured by the Philippine government and those donated by several countries had started to arrive.
She also said other accredited laboratories were able to run a total of 200 tests a day. These developed as the Chinese Embassy in Manila said Beijing was dispatching a team of medical experts to help the Philippines combat the rapid increase of COVID-19.
"The main task of the medical expert team is to help the Philippines fight against COVID-19 by providing technical advice on epidemic prevention and control as well as sharing medical treatment experience," the Chinese Embassy in Manila said in a statement.
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said the move was "upon the request of the Philippine government".
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, for his part, pledged that the Department of Health would coordinate with the Embassy to facilitate and assure the work of the medical expert team would go smoothly.
Before the rise COVID-19 cases in the country, the normal turnaround time for tests for the RITM was 24 to 48 hours.
However, it took five to seven days last week for the release of results of coronavirus tests as laboratories struggled to keep up with the increasing number of COVID-19 patients under investigation.
Carlos said the RITM was also responsible for assessing the biosafety standards of laboratories intending to run COVID-19 tests.
“After we inspect them, we give a recommendation. We expect the laboratory to comply if they have a deficiency,” Carlos said.
Just last week, the proposed laboratory of the Marikina City government was rejected because it was on the 6th floor of the city hall.
Carlos said the safety features must be complete to avoid contamination. With around 40 laboratories applying for certification, Vergeire said others interested in being assessed could send a letter to the DOH e-mail address: [email protected]
Nograles, who is also IATF-EID spokesperson, said the Department of Transportation (DOTr), in coordination with the DOH, was tasked to look for maritime vessels that could serve as "floating" quarantine centers.
Last week, the Department of Education also expressed willingness to convert public schools into quarantine facilities, in case the Covid-19 situation worsens in the country.
Meanwhile, with the arrival of 12 mechanical ventilators, the Quezon City government's fight against the virus was expected to be stronger. Mayor Joy Belmonte ordered the rental of 12 mechanical ventilators in response to the increasing number of positive COVID-19 cases – 140 confirmed cases and 26 deaths -- and in anticipation of patients who would need assistance in breathing.
“The mechanical ventilators will be distributed to our three local hospitals,” she said, referring to the Quezon City General Hospital, Rosario Maclang Bautista Hospital and the Novaliches District Hospital.
In Davao City, the Customs collection district has donated medical equipment to Southern Philippines Medical Center in view of the current health emergency situation.
Being the central care unit of Davao Region and the largest government hospital in Mindanao, the donation will boost their patient-care capacity making sure that all patients coming in are properly taken care of and accommodated.
Port of Davao officials led by Collector Erastus Sandino Austria donated eight 40-foot container vans delivered in three batches: three vans on March 28, another three on the 29th and the remaining vans on the following day containing gurneys, wheelchairs, bed-side and operating tables, dialysis chairs, medical trolleys and crutches, pharmaceutical refrigerators and sterilizers.
SPMC medical chief Dr. Leopoldo Vega received the donations on March 30, expressing his gratitude as these will add-up to their current medical facilities for their frontline workers and patients.
Meanwhile, Sen. Christopher Go expressed support to the appeal of the Philippine Nurses Association to help nurses who are persons under investigations be tested for COVID-19.
Go, chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography agreed that nurses and other health workers should be tested “because we need them most in the fight against the virus.”
Go aired his support after PNA National President Rosie de Leon appealed that nurses who would be considered PUI be given priority in the test. With PNA
READ: Shopee donates 3,000 test kits, 100,000 masks
READ: FDA okays 5 rapid test kits to slow virus spread