Baguio pilots ‘faster, cheaper’ antigen tests
BAGUIO CITY—Expecting a surge in the number of coronavirus cases due to recent mass tests and the influx of tourists since the March lockdown, the city will conduct its own efficacy study of rapid antigen tests to manage health-care expenses.
The Department of Health (DOH) has yet to release guidelines for the use of antigen test that can take only 15 minutes to detect coronavirus molecules that trigger immune responses. Such test can replace the less effective rapid test.
But the DOH has allowed the city government to subject travelers and suspected carriers to reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests and a parallel antigen test to determine if laboratory results match.
Resolution No. 73 of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases said antigen test may be used “among contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases in areas where there are documented clustering of cases, and for domestic tourists and visitors with essential travel.”
“The [DOH], the Department of Tourism and the World Health Organization are enjoined to continue providing assistance to the City of Baguio for this undertaking,” the resolution said.
Antigen test would be the fastest and cheaper choice for Baguio and the Ilocos region, given the potentially high rate of travel across borders with the reopening of tourism in these areas next month, Mayor Benjamin Magalong said.
Tourists from La Union, Pangasinan, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte are required to take RT-PCR tests, which cost between P3,200 and P3,500, at their own expense before they are cleared to cross the city borders. An antigen test costs about P1,000.
In separate television and radio interviews, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said: “We hope we are successful with the antigen testing so that [we can administer them] right before boarding because the result will come out faster, in just 15 minutes.”
Puyat said authorities only have to rely on the travelers’ “sense of responsibility” in ensuring that while waiting for their test results prior to departure, they would stay in their homes and continue practicing hygiene protocols so that they won’t get infected after undergoing the test.
“If you feel feverish, or have cough or colds, it’s better that you do not go. You have to be a responsible tourist,” she said.
Puyat said hotels and resorts had also been instructed to be ready to refund or rebook packages for tourists who catch COVID-19 prior to their flights or upon arrival in their destination, and had to cancel their trips.
“Antigens are a game changer, and we need to test their efficacy [as a] screening tool at our borders,” Magalong said. —REPORTS FROM VINCENT CABREZA, JULIE AURELIO, JEROME ANING AND TINA SANTOS
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