DTI Chief: Don’t listen to supporters of Rapid Antibody Tests
MANILA, Philippines — Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez stressed that rapid antibody tests should not be used on workers, no matter what others might say, amid fears that false negative results under the quick and cheap tests may have contributed to the surge in infection.
Without dropping any names, Lopez reminded the public that people should not listen to advocates of rapid antibody testing. Instead, he emphasized that only RT-PCR testing, or reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, should be used.
“Again, we don’t recommend rapid testing. It’s just [RT]-PCR testing. Let’s not listen to other sectors that are pushing for rapid [antibody] testing.
That is not needed. What’s needed is RT-PCR for those who are symptomatic,” he said in an event on Facebook live on Monday.
Lopez said this in his speech at the virtual ceremonial signing of the memorandum of agreement between the DTI and PLDT for a project called One Town, One Project Next Generation. The project was meant to help micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises, or MSMEs.
While Lopez warned against the controversial rapid antibody test kits, he also said that only symptomatic and exposed workers are required under the new guidelines to be tested. In these cases, the employers should shoulder the expenses.
The DTI and the Department of Labor and Employment issued new work protocol over the weekend. For some reason, however, the DTI and the DOLE only required testing workers that show COVID-19 symptoms, even asymptomatic workers could also be silent carriers of the virus.
Lopez did not specify who he meant by other sectors. But Project Ark, an initiative spearheaded by one of president’s advisers, has been pushing for rapid antibody test kits, even when there were fears that the tests might not be accurate.
Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion, who led Project Ark, was also the former boss of Lopez back when the latter still worked in the Concepcion-led RFM Corp.
Concepcion defended the use of the rapid antibody test kits in an earlier press briefing on Zoom. The main cause for the surge, he said, is that only symptomatic patients were tested at first.
Project Ark was named after the messianic ark in the Bible. It began as an initiative wherein companies would volunteer to order rapid antibody test kits for their workers. It is not clear how much was ordered to-date. But as of June, more than 1.2 million kits were ordered.
“This is a democratic country. If companies feel comfortable in using [rapid] antibody test kits and it’s worked for them, they will continue to do it in tandem [with RT-PCR testing],” Concepcion said.
In the open letter signed by medical groups last August 1, the healthcare workers cited certain problems that should be addressed while under enhanced community quarantine. These problems included the use of rapid antibody test kits.
While Duterte later decided to put Metro Manila, Laguna, Bulacan, Rizal and Cavite under a modified ECQ for some time, the problems were not necessarily addressed yet.
“RT-PCR is now being denied [to] patients with symptoms. LGUs [local government units] that do test continue to insist on the use of inappropriate rapid antibody tests to identify cases of COVID-19, sending home patients with symptoms who test negative,” the August 1 open letter read.
“This may be responsible for the surge of cases we are now experiencing because rapid tests miss more than half of people with active, contagious illness,” it said.
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