GOVERNMENT is eyeing the use of a fast and “more accurate” test to boost its efforts to identify persons with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said yesterday.
The antigen test, which can produce results in 30 minutes, can help the government reach its target of conducting about running 32,000 tests a day.
The government is currently using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and rapid antibody tests.
”The antigen test is another technology that we recently discussed in the IATF and we sent it to the technical working group to already put forth the literature, and protocols and procedures needed for antigen to be rolled out in our different laboratories,” said Nograles, concurrent co-chairman of the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
Nograles said he is not aware of the cost of the antigen test which involves taking a specimen from a person and mixing it with a solution to detect the presence of the coronavirus.
“It’s more accurate and fast,” he said.
The new test, together with 92 laboratories waiting for government approval to conduct tests, could hasten the processing and release of COVID-19 tests.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the government is also looking at using “pool testing” which can test 10 to 20 persons at a time. If the pool results show someone positive for COVID-19, all of those in the pool would undergo the PCR test.
Testing czar Vivencio Dizon said the pool testing involves PCR test. If approved, it could be used to test up to 14 million persons in Metro Manila.
He said the pool testing should be used in areas with high incidents of COVID infections.
Dizon said the country is now conducting 28,000 tests a day but expressed confidence it would eventually increase to 30,000 to 32,000 a day, and the country would be able to reach its goal of 10 million tests by 2021.
Dizon and Roque said the ramping up of testing would be complemented with an increase in the bed capacity for mild and asymptomatic patients in government-accredited isolation and quarantine facilities under the “Oplan Kalinga” program.
Under Oplan Kalinga, COVID-19 patients who cannot comply with the home quarantine protocols are fetched from their houses and taken to government quarantine facilities.
Dizon said the government had to ask some hotels, especially in Metro Manila, to provide some 2,000 beds to accommodate more patients under Oplan Kalinga. These hotels included the Go Hotels, Sogo, and Astrotel.
He said there has been a surge in the number of mild and asymptomatic patients since the launch of Oplan Kalinga and government needs to augment the current 3,000 beds in the four “To Heal As One Centers” and 10,000 beds in “Ligtas Centers” supervised by local government units (LGUs).
He said the stay in the hotels and the government facilities are free and inclusive of meals, but patients should be brought by the LGUs, together with their test results. “Walk-in” patients are not allowed, he said.
After getting a failing mark from some experts, the Department of Health said there has been a stark improvement in the government’s capability to address the pandemic.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said this can be seen in the massive boost seen in the resources of the DOH.
“During the time when we were able to temporarily flatten the curve in April, it allowed us to take the necessary actions (to address the pandemic),” she said.
She noted the number of accredited laboratories has gone up from zero to 91 while the daily testing capacity went up from 300 to 24,000 a day.
Also, she noted how the quarantine and isolation facilities increased from only one to nearly 9,000 nationwide, while the number of health workers hired for the emergency has risen to 5,268 from 296.
The number of isolation facilities, wards, and ICU beds has also gone up from only 2,890 to 15,596, she said, while mechanical ventilators increased to 1,988 from 380.
Vergeire said the DOH still needs the public’s health is stopping the surge in cases.
“We are again asking the public to always practice the minimum health standards and stay home if they don’t need to go out,” said Vergeire. – With Gerard Naval