Duque admits no COVID-19 mass testing ever conducted since outbreak
MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Thursday admitted that no mass testing has ever been conducted in the country from the time an outbreak of the coronavirus disease occurred.
At the House committee on health’s online meeting, Duque was asked if the national government ever implemented — or at least planned to implement — mass testing in the country, as government officials earlier promised.
“I do not recall that mass testing was ever done. I think the mass testing, the word ‘mass’ is generic. I understand that even rt-PCR (real-time polymerase chain reaction) can be used under that terminology of mass testing as well as the rapid antibody testing kits,” Duque said.
Duque claimed that other countries worldwide only test a percentage of their population, and that there was no such thing as a “one-is-to-one” testing worldwide as of now.
The Health secretary made this statement amid calls from the public and lawmakers alike for mass testing, especially following as some areas in the country transition to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) or general community quarantine.
“What I know is that there is no such thing, as of now worldwide, (as) a one-is-to-one testing. It’s really a percentage, some would say one percent, two percent of the population ought to be tested and perhaps even higher for areas which are epicenters of an outbreak,” he said.
Duque said that they are targeting to conduct about 30,000 tests daily by the end of the month or early June.
“That represents about 50 percent of suspects and probable cases,” Duque said.
Duque’s statement was a reflection of the position of presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, who said earlier that the government will not conduct mass testing. Instead, the government is carrying out an “expanded targeted testing.”
Roque said that it is even wrong to use the term “mass testing” as no country can conduct the deliberate testing of all its citizens.
“Wala pong bansa sa buong mundo na tinetest ang lahat ng kanilang mamamayan. Kaya nga po mali ang terminong mass testing (No country in the world is testing all of their population. The term mass testing is wrong),” he said.
This, however, was contrary to earlier pronouncements by presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., the chief implementor of the government measures against COVID-19, that mass testings will be conducted, starting April 14, simultaneous to the implementation of the ECQ over Luzon — including Metro Manila, the so-called epicenter of the outbreak — and other parts of the country to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The DOH, however, appeared surprised by this announcement, with Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire even saying that the department would still have to discuss this with the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
Even then, the DOH was pointing out that “mass testing did not mean everyone would be tested for SARS-CoV-2,” the virus that triggered the pandemic.
Earlier, during the online briefing of the House of Representatives’ Makabayan bloc, Gabriela Partylist Rep. Arlene Brosas slammed the national government’s “incompetence and negligence” in its response to the pandemic.
“Kailan kaya yung first wave ng mass testing na matagal nang ipinapanawagan ng mamamayan (When will be the first wave of mass testing that our countrymen have been calling for)?” Brosas said.
“The Filipino people complied with one of the longest and strictest lockdowns, militarist approach, only to be informed that the two month’s worth of sacrifice will be put into waste because of the government’s refusal to conduct mass testing?” she added.
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