THE National Task Force Against Covid-19 is targeting to bring to 78 the total number of testing laboratories for the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) by May 30 in order to ramp up testing and eventually allow the lifting of quarantine restrictions.
Newly appointed task force deputy chief implementer Vivencio “Vince” Dizon said during a briefing with President Rodrigo Duterte Monday, May 4, that there are currently 20 accredited testing laboratories across the country.
A Department of Health (DOH) situation report, however, lists 22 laboratories that are licensed to conduct the RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) test as of May 3.
The RT-PCR test, which is done on nasopharyngeal swabs, detects the novel coronavirus, or Sars-CoV-2, which causes the respiratory infection called Covid-19.
The number of operational laboratories at present is about seven times more than the three laboratories in February 2020, but more laboratories are still needed to meet the government’s targeted testing capacity of 8,000 per day.
On May 3, the DOH said a total of 4,883 RT-PCR tests were conducted, just a little more than half of the targeted capacity.
“What the challenge now is, really, how to ramp up our testing to the levels in which we can be comfortable enough to start easing the restrictions,” Dizon said.
“Because we know that if we have the testing capacity, mabilis po tayong makaka-test, mabilis po nating maa-identify kung sino ang may sakit, at dahil doon po, mabilis natin silang ma-isolate at mapipigilan ang lag-surge ng infection sa community,” he added.
He said the goal is to accredit and operate 58 more laboratories that are strategically located all over the country.
He said 58 laboratories are currently in advanced stages of accreditation.
“And that is really what we need to do po. We need to speed up the accreditation of these labs in order for them to begin operation within the month of May,” he said.
Dizon said the RT-PCR test costs between P2,000 and P5,000, but it is “absolutely necessary”.
“We need to really invest in the testing capacity also because we know that a vaccine is not forthcoming soon,” he stressed.
Still part of efforts to ramp up testing is the establishment of four “mega swabbing centers” in Metro Manila, where nasopharyngeal swabbing is conducted.
These are located in the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan, Mall of Asia in Pasay, Enderun Colleges in Taguig and Palacio de Maynila Tent in Manila.
Dizon said these will be completed this week.
He also cited the need to speed up establishment of isolation centers to house those who have contracted the virus, including those who have not developed symptoms.
Isolation goes hand-in-hand with treatment to ensure that hospitals do not get congested, Dizon added.
As of May 4, there were 9,485 cases of infection in the Philippines. Of the number, 623 had died while 1,315 have recovered.
Globally, the novel coronavirus has killed 239,604 people as of May 4. More than 3.4 million have been infected. (MVI/SunStar Philippines)