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Gov’t now monitoring antigen tests for clearer COVID-19 picture

MANILA, Philippines — The government’s pandemic task force has ordered the improved monitoring of rapid antigen tests so it could get a better picture of the country’s COVID-19 situation, which still does not include the results of such tests.

The COVID-19 tally is currently based on RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) results submitted to the Department of Health (DOH) by its laboratories.

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RT-PCR tests are considered the gold standard in detecting infection of the novel coronavirus. The faster alternative is the rapid antigen test, which detects antigens or toxins that trigger an immune system response when entering the body.

At his press briefing on Friday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) had directed its regional offices and other units to monitor the allocation and utilization of their rapid antigen tests, and also the National Capital Region Center for Health Development (NCR-CHD) of the DOH to facilitate the registration of all facilities that use rapid antigen kits.

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Roque said the NCR-CHD was further directed to ensure that antigen line lists, as the task force calls the lists of rapid test results, be collected and consolidated from health facilities, temporary treatment and monitoring facilities and the local governments for submission to the DOH.

The IATF also recommended that disease surveillance staff and encoders among the local governments be augmented to ensure that line lists are submitted on a daily basis.

“This is in connection with the need to improve the reporting of COVID-19 cases,” Roque said.

He did not say when rapid antigen test results will be included in the nationwide tally.

Slower increase in cases

The DOH said it is being cautious in interpreting the slower rate of increase in COVID-19 cases both in Metro Manila and in the country as a whole.

“We have observed over the past month that while reported cases remained high at the national level and in the National Capital Region, there was a slower rate of increase,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said at her press briefing.

“The large decline in reported cases may have been largely affected by the rapid and large decline in RT-PCR laboratory output, thus the need to interpret our case metrics carefully,” she added.

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The DOH has lowered its risk assessment of Metro Manila to “moderate” due to the downward trend in cases.

In the past week, average daily reported cases in the capital region have gone down to 4,480 compared with the previous week’s daily average of 5,842.

“We are coordinating with the MMDA (Metropolitan Manila Development Authority) and local governments to see why there is a decrease in the output. Is it because of the use of rapid antigen tests or they just can’t find any cases?” Vergeire said.

Testing output has also gone down in the Eastern Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, Davao, Soccsksargen and Caraga regions, according to the department’s data.

‘No deaths’

Vergeire said the DOH is checking “what factors led to this much lower test output,” given the other indicators of the COVID-19 situation.

For instance, the department’s latest case bulletin showed that hospital bed use nationwide still remained high, with 77 percent of intensive care unit (ICU) beds, 65 percent of isolation beds and 70 percent of ward beds utilized.

But the positivity rate has gone down to 24.2 percent, compared with 27.5 percent the previous week.

The DOH acknowledged that reporting of COVID-19 cases was again marred by “technical issues.”

“No deaths were reported today due to technical issues in COVIDKaya,” the department said, referring to its case collection system.

On Friday, there were 18,659 more reported infections, which brought total cases to 2,453,328.

Of the 175,324 active cases, majority, or 88.1 percent, are mild, 6.9 percent are asymptomatic, 2.84 percent are moderate, 1.5 percent are severe and 0.7 percent are critical.

The DOH reported 9,088 new recoveries, bringing the total to 2,240,599.

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TAGS: COVID-19 antigen tests, RT-PCR
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