MANILA, Philippines, March 23 ------ The director of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine is staying, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Monday. “Dr. (Celia) Carlos will remain. I corrected that already,” Duque said. The health chief was reacting to the Department Order 2020-1011 that made rounds in social media on Sunday, supposedly appointing Health Assistant Secretary Nestor Santiago as officer-in-charge of RITM. “He (Santiago) is really put there as an oversight... His job is to help Dr. Carlos to expand the number of testing centers,” Duque clarified.
RITM houses the country’s lone testing center for coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) and many speculated that the order assigning Santiago as OIC, which essentially meant Carlos being booted out, was because Carlos refused to prioritize VIP patients in testing. Senators, local officials and other public servants are being criticized for using their position to get direct access to COVID-19 testing, even if they do not have symptoms of the disease, a strict qualification the Health department has implemented in other patients.
Earlier, Duque justified the testing for officials, saying they are qualified under looser directions for testing that allows persons under investigation, even asymptomatic, to get tested. Rules had been revised late February as supply of testing kits get stretched from the number of PUIs. After around 100,000 donated testing kits finally arrived over the weekend, the government is set to open five new testing centers across the archipelago this week.