March 10 ------ Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri rejected statements from Department of Health (DOH) officials about the testing for possible novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) despite the spike in the number of confirmed cases in the country. In a privilege speech Monday, Zubiri expressed dismay with the DOH for the lack of available testing kits especially now that local transmission of the virus has been confirmed. It was revealed during an earlier Senate hearing that the government currently has 2,000 test kits.
“These cases are happening now, people [are] getting sick and yet no testing is being done on them,” Zubiri said. “That’s why I was infuriated last night when I heard that one of the USec. (undersecretary) of DOH [saying] that it is not necessary to get tested, [saying] ‘do not panic’, because if you do not travel, if you do not get close to a particular person, you don’t need to be tested,” he added. “Mr. President, that’s BS (bullsh*t) — if I may be allowed to say it — because these localized transmissions are happening now as we speak. I am worried that we are not — maybe [it’s] not underreporting — but because of the lack in testing kits, we are not reporting, [because] nobody’s being tested,” he stressed. He also said: “Imagine superpowers South Korea, Italy — the US has 19 deaths — if they cannot control it, what more we? China, which is the second largest economy in the world, is paralyzed because of this COVID-19, what more us?”
Zubiri said President Duterte’s declaration of a state of a national public health emergency should prompt the DOH to prioritize the purchase of testing kits to prevent the COVID-19 from further spreading. He said the test kits should be distributed to all hospitals nationwide, saying the DOH’s Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) could only hold 50 patients. “The key here is allowing the DOH to make testing kits available at all hospitals so anyone with coughs and cold will get tested,” Zubiri said. During a press briefing at the DOH Monday, Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire maintained that not all persons who experience symptoms of flu should immediately be tested for COVID-19.
Vergeire said the DOH follows a criteria for people to be subjected to coronavirus testing: if the person showed symptoms, if the person had travelled to countries affected by COVID-19, and if the person had a direct contact with persons confirmed to be infected with the virus. Those who do not meet the criteria are “low-risk” for COVID-19, she said. “We need to be conscious that anybody in Manila or the Philippines who has a respiratory tract infection is not having Covid-19.The mere fact that you have respiratory tract infection does not mean that you need to be tested for COVID unless you have been in close contact with these cases,” WHO representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said. “You cannot test everybody. We have to be realistic about the test,” he pointed out.
In a separate briefing Monday, DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III admitted that their “limited testing supplies” may have caused an “unintentional” underreporting of the coronavirus infections. There are now 24 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines after President Duterte bared Monday night that four more persons were infected by the new coronavirus strain.