Duque admits ‘gaps’ as lawmakers flag likely underreporting of confirmed COVID-19 cases
MANILA, Philippines — Amid the surge of COVID-19 cases in the country a year into the pandemic, some lawmakers flagged a possible underreporting of confirmed cases since the reported infections are limited on the basis of results from reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests.
During the House health committee hearing on Tuesday, officials were asked regarding the non-reporting of antigen tests that yield positive results.
“That’s my worry, it would seem like there’s a growing number of COVID positives who were tested not on the basis of RT-PCR but rather antigen. In which case, hindi po sila nasasama sa reporting ng confirmed cases,” Marikina City Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo said.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III admitted there were “gaps” in the policy of reporting confirmed cases.
“This would require a policy review as to when the antigen test results will be counted if positive,” Duque said.
“This is something that is going to be addressed by the concerned office and the [Research Institute for Tropical Medicine], which is our technical arm in terms of testing, we’ll get their recommendation with regard to your very well taken point,” he added.
Duque’s admission of a gap in the reporting of COVID-19 cases, however, did not sit well with Quimbo.
“Your admission of a gap is tantamount to also admitting that the numbers are underreported? Kasi hindi natin nakukuha yung nako-confirm on the basis of antigen tests,” the lawmaker said.
“Isn’t that a big concern? Considering that we already have a surge in new cases but because we have agreed that there is this possibility [that] there’s this big gap,” she said.
“What’s steps are you taking?” she added.
In response, Duque maintained that the policy of the Department of Health (DOH) considers the RT-PCR assumed as the “gold standard of testing.”
“I need to get more study or data on the use of antigen testing,” he added.
Committee chairperson Quezon Rep. Angelina “Helen” Tan also urged the DOH to look into the matter since antigen tests are more commonly used by the public in determining positive cases.
“You look into that matter, especially everyone is using antigen tests kasi ‘yun ang most accessible and affordable to our constituents, to Filipinos,” she said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate also expressed concerns over the possible underreporting of confirmed infections in the country.
“Kailan po ninyo babaguhin yung policy na ‘yan? Kasi as it is now, it appears talaga na there is an underreporting of cases,” Zarate said.
“We are looking at a surge number now, 10,000. In reality pala baka 20,000 ito, 30,000. We don’t know, dahil RT-PCR lang yung binasehan natin,” he added.
DOH Undersecretary Ma. Rosario Vergeire agreed with the lawmakers that antigen testing has been widely used, particularly among local government units to confirm cases.
Currently, only those who tested positive through RT-PCR tests are considered as confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Those who tested positive through antigen testing are only considered as suspected or probable cases, Vergeire noted.
“They are not reported do’n sa case bulletin but we have the numbers for that and we also manage them. If you observe, even in hospitals, we find that there are confirmed cases and there also are confined and admitted suspect and probable cases of COVID-19,” she added.
Nevertheless, Vergeire told the House panel that those who tested positive through rapid antigen testing in areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases—such as Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces—will now be included in the official tally of infections.
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