Filipinos defined ‘mass testing’ anew after Duque’s erroneous remarks on COVID-19 detection capacity

July 21, 2020 - 5:38 PM
Francisco Duque in IATF meeting
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte confers with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III during a meeting with members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) at the Matina Enclaves in Davao City on June 4, 2020. (PCOO/Robinson Niñal Jr.)

Filipinos on Tuesday reiterated the definition of the term “mass testing” after Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in a televised meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte said there is no country capable of testing all of its citizens for COVID-19.

The top health official made the remark after the president asked if the country has “the capacity to do the testing for every citizen” during their Inter-Agency Task Force meeting on Monday night.

Duque answered that the government cannot test all of the country’s citizens one-by-one and claimed that developed countries like the United States of America have not yet achieved such a feat.

He said that the Philippines has a testing capacity of 74,000 but the average daily output ranges “from about 20,000 to 23,000 daily.”

“Na-reach na po ‘yung 25,000. Ang target po natin is 10 million Filipinos to be tested by 2021. And we hope to be able to do the test at 32,000 to about 40,000 a day, Mr. President. So hindi naman po natin puwedeng i-test ang bawat mamamayan,” Duque said to Duterte.

The Department of Health reported that it has tested 1,087,935 individuals as of July 19.

What does mass testing mean?

Meanwhile, Duque’s words on mass testing were published by ABS-CBN News through a social media quote card which prompted his name and the words “Mass Testing” to land on local Twitter’s top trending list on Tuesday morning.

As the public continues to call for mass testing, Health Sec. Francisco Duque III claimed that no country has successfully mass tested its entire population for #COVID19,” the news division of ABS-CBN tweeted as it quoted Duque’s remarks.

The DOH chief’s words did not sit well with some Filipinos who continuously argued that the meaning of “mass testing” does not equate to testing the entire population of the country.

“Again, Mr. Duque, mass testing ≠ entire population. Nobody is telling you to test every single Filipino. Do not mislead the ppl (people) by your invalid comparison and do your job,” a Twitter user wrote.

DAKILA Philippines, a group of artist advocates claiming to spark social change, retweeted the social media card containing Duque’s words and noted that mass testing means “increasing the RT-PCR testing capacity of the country” to swab certain communities.

Columnist and blogger Tonyo Cruz shared an infographic created by Scientists Unite Against COVID-19, an alliance of Filipino scientists, organizations and concerned individuals, that defined mass testing.

The alliance noted that mass testing indicates swab testing the following:

  • All of the suspect cases
  • All of the close contacts of confirmed or probable cases 
  • Regularly testing all of the frontline healthcare workers 
  • People in high-risk communities or vulnerable populations 

RELATED: Asymptomatic cases excluded in DOH’s new COVID-19 classifications

Cruz also added why the alliance has been pushing for mass testing. The group said that it can “flatten the curve” and “obtain more accurate epidemiological data.”

He further added the alliance’s statement on the initiative which include the following reasons:

  • Finding asymptomatic carriers who needed to be isolated;
  • The government can get a better picture of the extent of COVID-19 infections and anticipate its response;
  • The government can spot and contain localized outbreaks in communities around the country;
  • The government can obtain more accurate epidemiological data for modeling the course of the pandemic.

In May, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque also erroneously defined mass testing as carrying out the COVID-19 tests to the entire population of the Philippines.  

RELATED: Roque stands by his definition of ‘mass testing,’ but doctor disagrees

Meanwhile, allies of Duterte in the House of Representatives urged Duque to launch a mass testing initiative four months after the country was initially placed in community quarantine.

Former senator JV Ejercito said in a tweet that the initiative could’ve been good news if it was done as early as March, when the cases were still significantly fewer.

Malacañang said that while it cannot afford to test “110 million Filipinos,” it will find means to reach such an initiative.

The government currently uses the term “expanded targeted testing” although health organizations have long used “mass testing” in its briefings without pertaining to the whole population.