SENATOR Joel Villanueva called for caution in lowering pandemic alert levels to protect the workforce and renewed his call for free Covid-19 testing in the country.

With reports of Metro Manila entering into Alert Level 1 status, return of face-to-face classes in schools, and the current election campaign activities, Villanueva urged the government to be vigilant to keep another Covid-19 surge from happening.

“We are still in a pandemic and yet Filipinos have to find and keep on earning their livelihood. Another surge means another loss of lives and livelihood,” the senator said.

“The freedom to work and freedom to vote should be protected by our right to health,” he added.

Villanueva lauded the Department of Health for lowering the price cap on antigen tests but noted that the price still poses a burden to families and workers.

The DOH lowered the price of self-administered antigen rapid diagnostic test kits to P350 from P500, while the price of antigen testing service conducted by medical personnel had been capped at P660 from P960.

The new price caps will be implemented starting February 20.

Meanwhile, the daily minimum wage rate in Metro Manila is at P537 and varies outside the National Capital Region.

The chair of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment, and Human Resource Development, citing data as of 2021 from the National Wages and Productivity Commission, said the estimated 3.6 million minimum wage earners in the country still cannot afford regular antigen testing if it is an out-of-pocket expense requirement for them to work or apply for work on site.

“While the price cap is good news for businesses who provide testing for their employees, free testing with fully operational contact tracing should have been a national standard by now to protect our workforce,” the senator said.

Villanueva said the government should still aim for free Covid-19 testing to relieve minimum wage earners from the increased cost of goods due to inflation and the rise of fuel prices from the past six weeks.

“It is not too late for free testing and contact tracing at this point in our fight against the pandemic. We need to prevent another surge and ensure the success of vaccination efforts. Nonetheless, this new normal should not be a burden to our workers,” he said.

He added that testing, vaccination, and telemedicine for Covid-19 should be more accessible to more Filipinos in more parts of the country.