VICE President Leni Robredo yesterday urged the national government to ramp up testing in areas where there are high virus transmissions, and said the Office of the Vice President (OVP) will provide free mobile antigen COVID-19 tests in targeted areas starting this week.
Robredo said the “Swab Cab” mobile test centers will be in Malabon City’s hot spot areas from March 30 to April 6 to pilot the project, which will be undertaken through the help of the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership and UBE Express Inc.
“Right from the start of the pandemic, the Office of the President has been stressing the need for stepped up testing in communities to prevent transmission. We made the same call when the number of cases started to rise again recently),” the Vice President said on a Facebook post.
The OVP will launch the project as the weeklong enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) imposed on areas covered by the National Capital Region (NCR) Plus bubble take effect beginning today.
President Duterte on Saturday approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to put NCR, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Bulacan under strict home quarantine in a bid to stop the continued spike in COVID-19 cases in the region and the four neighboring provinces.
The Department of Health yesterday reported 9,475 new cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 721,892, counting the 9,838 reported last Friday and 9,595 last Saturday.
Robredo said the Swab Cab project aims to help local government units (LGUs) increase their testing capacity through the use of antigen test kits and community-based surveillance testing to support the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests currently being done to identify and isolate those who will test positive for the virus especially since many of them are asymptomatic.
On her weekly radio program, the Vice President said the Swab Cab buses will go the communities and the LGUs will be the one to identify the individuals to be tested.
She those who will test positive in the antigen tests will be immediately isolated in a facility and will undergo a RT-PCR test, which remains the “gold standard” in testing.
The Vice President said the OVP has also resumed the distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and medical supplies to help frontliners protect themselves as the battle against COVID-19 continues.
Robredo urged the national government to increase testing as she noted that the 30,000 to 50,000 tests undertaken nationwide is no longer enough because the positivity rates for some regions have become too high.
She cited the current national positivity rate of 17.29 percent, noting that the World Health Organization’s standard is for the positivity rate to be less than five percent.
“We need to have that as our target. Here are our recommended number of tests per day per region, based on the March 26 numbers. We will do this on a daily basis as the reports come in,” Robredo said.
For Metro Manila alone, she said 90,000 tests are needed daily as the positivity rate for the metropolis is at 20.17 percent, which means that one person tests positive out of every five tests undertaken.
In Cagayan Valley, the Vice President noted that the positivity rate is highest at 28.94 percent which means there is a need to conduct a minimum of 3,860 tests per day “if we are to target five percent positivity rate.”
“Of course, these numbers will adjust depending on the results of the surveillance testing. But we need to do it now. The number of tests being recommended is the barest minimum.
They will only be enough if the additional tests turn out negative. But if the number of tests would show more positive results, five percent positivity rate will not be achieved. Hence, we have to really test more,” she said.
Robredo reiterated her call for a new round of financial assistance to the poor as the government places NCR and other areas under lockdown, saying a subsidy would help stop them from leaving their homes.
At the House, former speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s “P10 K Ayuda bill” was already referred to the committee on economic affairs for consolidation with other similar measures.
Cayetano’s ally Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte (NP, Camarines Sur) said a third cash subsidy following the two previous ones given to poor and low-income families last year under the SAP (Social Amelioration Program) of Bayanihan 1 (Bayanihan to Heal as One Act) “is imperative at this time to boost household income amid the triple whammy of high unemployment, high hunger rate and high food prices resulting from the lingering coronavirus pandemic.”
He urged the House leadership to put Cayetano’s measure on the front-burner when Congress resumes session in May after its almost two-month Lenten recess, saying President Duterte has already tasked his economic managers to study how to fund another round of amelioration for the benefit of millions of families reeling from the coronavirus-driven global recession.