‘Free Mass Testing Act’ pushed in the House of Representatives
MANILA, Philippines — Several lawmakers have filed a bill mandating free mass testing for persons considered “suspects” for COVID-19 infection, as well as close contacts of probable and confirmed cases, high-risk communities, health workers, and other vulnerable sectors.
Under House Bill No. 6848 or the “Free Mass Testing Act of 2020” filed by the Makabayan bloc lawmakers, the “Free Mass Testing Program” seeks to know the extent of COVID-19 transmission and infection in the country.
Through this, the lawmakers believe, the government will be equipped with essential data to address the pandemic.
“Supposedly, the Filipinos were locked to community quarantine to buy more time for the government to prepare the country’s health care system and put health and medical solutions in place to prepare for the surge of infection,” the lawmakers said.
“However, even after two months of community quarantine, the government miserably failed to meet its sea-imposed targets for testing and contact-racing, much more, the expectations of the Filipino people,” they added.
Thus, the proposed bill mandates the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to create a COVID-19 Mass Testing Plan in coordination with the Department of Health (DOH).
DOH is likewise tasked to ensure the establishment and accreditation of public testing centers and trained personnel in every region which would facilitate the demand for mass testing.
Further, DOH and its Epidemiology Bureau, in coordination with local government units (LGUs), shall also determine the areas or clusters for the sampling and subsequent testing of the Philippine population or epidemiological testing.
Who is covered by the bill?
- Suspect cases
- Close contacts of confirmed and probable cases
- Surveillance testing in high-risk communities – in areas with community transmission, a representative sample of the barangay and adjacent barangays shall be tested
- Health workers
- Other vulnerable sectors (symptomatic patients aged 60 years old and above, patients with comorbid illness regardless of age, pregnant women, returning overseas Filipino workers, other frontline workers, other groups determined by the Department of Health)
Those returning to work—whether in the public or private sector—shall be assessed by an occupational health practitioner, with those assessed as suspect cases required to be tested, according to the bill.
The same applies to students, teachers, and non-teaching personnel who shall be assessed by a school health practitioner or a city or municipal health officer.
Meanwhile, the proposal noted that returning OFWs should be screened by the Bureau of Quarantine personnel, tested, and undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon their arrival in the country, with strict observance of quarantine protocols in an appropriate facility.
Similar rules apply for foreign workers, tourists, and other foreign nationals, the bill added.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said the government will not conduct mass testing and will carry out “expanded targeted testing” instead.
Roque even said it is wrong to use the term “mass testing” as no country can conduct the deliberate testing of all its citizens.
As of May 27, there are 15,049 COVID-19 cases in the Philippines with recoveries at 3,506 and death toll at 904.
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