President Rodrigo Duterte admitted to having realized the importance of accessible and affordable testing to detect the virus which causes COVID-19 nearly nine months since the quarantine measures were imposed to supposedly contain it.
Testing is the first response the World Health Organization strongly recommended last March to quell the spread of the deadly virus in affected countries.
In his regular televised briefing on Monday, December 8, Duterte discussed the possible spike in the number of infections during the holidays when he expressed what he learned about testing as a public policy.
“Alam mo ang importante pala sa totoo lang and I realize now it’s the testing — ‘yung swabbing pati ‘yung test. Kasi mahal, I’m trying to figure out a cheaper way of doing it and I will discuss it with the secretary of health and Gen. [Calito] Galvez, how to come up with a cheaper swabbing and testing kasi magbayad ka mahal lalo na sa airport,” he said.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III then informed Duterte about the costs of the real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction or RT-PCR testing for COVID-19 which vary between privately-licensed and public laboratories.
Duque stated that the price for RT-PCR tests from private laboratories range from P4,500 to P5,000. Public laboratories would bill each for P3,800.
Duterte responded and instructed him to spend government funds for the COVID-19 testing program.
“So is there a way that we can spend for all of this testing? Makabili tayo, makamura tayo, kung may pera pa maghanap tayo so that it is actually to me the sacred duty of government to protect its citizens,” he said.
In line of late realizations, it was only in July, four months into quarantine, when he considered the spread of COVID-19 among his constituents as a “top problem.”
“Perhaps our number one problem today is the COVID,” he said.
The government managed to meet its target testing capacity last July. This was, however, nearly two months delayed from the initial target by the end of May.
In a tweet on Tuesday, December 8, ABS-CBN’s data analyst Edson Guido stated that testing even peaked to nearly 47,000 on September 11.
Guido also questioned why the government has yet to announce a new target months after the initial goal was reached, citing the increase of more licensed laboratories dedicated for COVID-19 testing.
“We need a new target so that we have a metric for success. Why did testing peak in Sept. when we have more labs now?” he said.
He also attached a graph showing the increase of the country’s testing capacity since last May.
Testing peaked to nearly 47,000 on Sept. 11.
The gov't said its target was to test 30,000 daily by end of May (met on July 22). No new target has been announced.
— Edson (@EdsonCGuido) December 7, 2020
Since the onset of the outbreak last March, there has been continuous calls for government officials to ramp up its efforts in conducting testing procedures or mass testing, following by contact tracing, isolation and treating the infected patients.
Mass testing is the term used by health organizations that refer to the need to detect COVID-19 patients as part of the process to “flatten the curve” or reduce the number of cases to a manageable level.
This requires testing the whole population. Ideally, individuals that should be part of mass testing are:
- All suspected cases
- All individuals who come in close contact with infected patients
- All frontline health workers
- Some members of high-risk or vulnerable communities
Despite the clear definition, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque made a different interpretation of it last May wherein he announced that the government has not officially sanctioned “mass testing” comparable to what was conducted in Wuhan, China, citing lack of capacity.
Back then, the local government of Wuhan sought to test all its constituents.
Roque attempted to clarify that he was referring to was the government’s “expanded target testing” program, which was the same approach.
How the public reacted
Filipinos compared Duterte’s remark on the value of testing with the old Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s search browser known for its sluggish speed.
Have u ever met the human version of internet explorer? Here it goes……. https://t.co/2DSUS2m6m2
— Pat (@pattyyyy__) December 7, 2020
After 9 fuckign months😭😭😭😭 congrats mr president internet explorer yata gamit mo https://t.co/BG5HjxYk00
— lee (@leemonboii) December 7, 2020
Visual artist Kerwin King counted the government’s priorities in the past months as a reminder.
Ipapaalala ko lang..
• P15B PhilHealth stolen funds
• P2B for private jet
• P8.23B for Du30’s office
• P389M budget for dolomite project
• P50M Cayetano's cauldron
• P7.98B PNP bonuses & cash gifts
And Duterte took him 9 fuckin months to realize the importance of testing
— Kerwin King (@imkerwinking) December 7, 2020
Facebook page Voice of Millennials quipped and cheered for Duterte’s realization.
“Finally! After 9 months. Gising na siya!” the page said.