The issues on mass testing and isolation were once again tackled during President Rodrigo Duterte‘s late-night briefing on Monday, almost two months since the community quarantine has been imposed.
The new deputy chief implementer of the national policy against COVID-19, Vivencio “Vince” Dizon raised the need for the government to ramp up its efforts on testing Filipinos for COVID-19. The public had been calling for mass testing since the start of the quarantine period.
Dizon also holds other titles—the president and chief executive officer of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority and the Presidential adviser for Flagship Programs and Projects, which leads the Duterte administration’s Build, Build, Build infrastructure program.
“You cannot fight a fire blindfolded and we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected,” when he raised the mass testing,” Dizon quoted the World Health Organization when he raised the need for mass testing.
During the meeting with the president, Dizon constantly referred to the former as “mayor.” This was also indicated in the official transcript of the Presidential Communications Operations Office.
“Ang kalaban po ay ‘yung disease, hindi po ‘yung taong may sakit. Ang kalaban po ay ‘yung sakit itself. But to unmask that we have to test. So, it also—I think it’s very important especially from a communications point of view, Mayor, that we need to ramp up testing to save lives,” Dizon said.
He also mentioned WHO’s three Ts to combat COVID-19 which means: testing, tracing, and treating. Dizon, however, interchanged the order when he mentioned it.
“After detecting, testing and tracing, we need po to isolate,” he said.
Moreover, the concern about the lack of licensed laboratories to conduct testing, which some local officials have criticized before, was also raised.
Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro previously bared the health department’s lengthy accreditation stages.
“We need to speed up, and Secretary Duque (Francisco Duque III) emphasized this po, we need to speed up the accreditation of these labs in order for them to begin operation within the month of May,” Dizon said.
Mass testing before lifting the quarantine
Since the enhanced community quarantine was first implemented last March, the public has been calling on the Department of Health to accredit more testing facilities and conduct large-scale detection of the new virus which causes COVID-19.
Duterte last March 31 said that the government is “ramping up our capacity to test more broadly to take a fuller and more accurate picture of the spread of COVID-19 in the country.”
He likewise said the government would “build, operate and accredit more medical facilities and laboratories in the coming weeks.”
However, the clamor for mass testing continued as several Filipinos perceive lack of update on this.
Filipinos who watched the national address thanked and praised Dizon for raising these issues anew, albeit it might be too late already.
“Finally, someone already proposed Mass Testing to these meetings, definitely took some guts to say it in front of the President,” one user said.
"Ang ating kalaban ay hindi ang mga tao, kundi ang virus" – Vince Dizon
FINALLY someone already proposed Mass Testing to these meetings, definitely took some guts to say it in front of the President.#MassTestingNowPH
Tonight with Rodrigo Duterte
— MIKOPALMOS (@mikopalmos1) May 4, 2020
finally someone said it 👏🏻 naman kay vince dizon sa pagpoproposed ng mass testing na dapat ginawa na nila una palang
✅pag isolate sa mga positive cases https://t.co/80rVftJ7bM
— 𝖑𝖚𝖓𝖆 (@leanahfye) May 4, 2020
Sana magkaroon ng mass testing sa buong pilipinas. Pero that would be impossible dahil sa dami natin. Yung ite test muna ay yung may mga symptoms na siguro. Thanks Vince Dizon. Let us pray for the vaccine guys. pic.twitter.com/b2e7zkYhEl
— rose (@jaded_84) May 5, 2020
The Department of Health previously sought to increase increase capacity between 8,000 to 10,000 tests by the end of April.
In a virtual press briefing on Tuesday, Dizon said the country is now “target testing capacity is 30,000 tests per day by May 30.”
Duterte extended the ECQ to high-risk areas until May 15 and imposed a new directive called general community quarantine to moderate-risk and low-risk areas, which was also scheduled to be lifted on the same date.
Due to the inadequate number of testing kits and laboratories, health officials were only able to expand the testing protocols last April 14.
WHO: Isolate, test, treat and trace
Last March 18, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced that aside from mass testing and physical distancing measures, countries “must isolate, test, treat and trace” to suppress and control epidemics such as the new pathogen.
“Physical distancing measures like canceling sporting events, concerts, and other large gatherings – can help to slow transmission of the virus. They can reduce the burden on the health system. And they can help to make epidemics manageable, allowing targeted and focused measures,” Ghebreyesus said.
“But to suppress and control epidemics, countries must isolate, test, treat, and trace. If they don’t, transmission chains can continue at a low level, then resurge once physical distancing measures are lifted,” he added.
So far, only a few countries have claimed to be successful in flattening the curve or the phrase used to describe in making the number of cases manageable. These include Vietnam, Taiwan, New Zealand and South Korea.