March 9 ------ The Department of Health (DOH) reminded the public to remain calm amid the localized transmission of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the country. Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that established protocols with regards to the testing for COVID-19 must still be followed. Vergeire said that people with a history of travel, manifesting symptoms of respiratory illness, and have close contact with a positive case are the criteria for them to be considered as persons under investigation for COVID-19 that will require testing.
“Just because we increased the alert level, it does not mean that everyone with cough, colds, fever, needs to get checked in the hospitals,” she said. “What we are saying is that our decision tool on who are deemed as PUIs will remain the same,” she added. This was seconded by World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe.
“Every country practices contact tracing and if you have suspected exposure or travel history–only those people are tested. You cannot test everybody. We have to be realistic about the test,” he said. “As we investigate these cases, we’ll have a clear understanding of the local spread of this disease and that information when available will be shared by the DOH,” he added. Meanwhile, the DOH said that it is still studying proposals to use rapid diagnostic test kits for faster detection of COVID-19.
“To date, these test kits have yet to be listed or validated under the WHO Emergency Use List. Such validation is necessary to ensure accuracy of test results,” said Health Secretary Francsico Duque III. “We are studying these proposals to ensure that they are accurate and safe for the public’s use,” he added. However, the DOH said that it is expanding its testing capacity, citing that five other laboratories have already been accredited to test samples of COVID-19, aside from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa, City.
“The five sub-national labs who are being provided capacity to do test— completed their training on COVID identification and the proficiency test, all of them passed,” said RITM Director Celia Carlos. The five laboratories were San Lazaro Hospital and Lung Center of the Philippines in Manila; Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center in Northern Luzon; Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in the Visayas region; and Southern Philippines Medical Center in Mindanao. Carlos reported that the RITM have “kits enough to complete about 2,500 tests at the moment.”
Abeyasinghe has committed to help the country in terms of testing capacity but noted that every country needs to recognize that there is huge global demand of these reagents, chemicals, and testing materials for COVID-19. “We are processing fresh requests for increase quantity based on the evolving situation on the ground now. We will do our best to ensure that the DOH and RITM don’t run short of their requirement,” he said. To note, the DOH confirmed the localized transmission of COVID-19 in the Philippines last Saturday after a 62-year-old Filipino male, with no known history of travel to any country with virus infection, tested positive for COVID-19.