House leader seeks P10B-P15B supplemental budget for purchase of testing kits

By Charissa Luci-Atienza 

Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. Luis Raymund "LRay" Villafuerte Jr. on Sunday sought the immediate approval by Congress of the P10 billion to P15 billion supplemental budget for the purchase of the coronavirus disease-2019  (COVID-19) testing kits.

He strongly urged President Duterte to call for a special session so that Congress could pass "urgent" measures that will strengthen the government's capacity to contain the spread of COVID-19.

He said the kits will test not only patients with confirmed infections, but also mildly symptomatic people and even those who are asymptomatic, or have not displayed any of the virus’ symptoms, but had come in contact with infected persons.

Villafuerte said the government should consider purchasing cutting-edge testing kits like the ones used in South Korea, whose results are known 5 to 6 hours after the testing.

"The public would feel a lot safer and less anxious if they are assured that there are more than enough test kits available for free, even for mildly symptomatic people, and the asymptomatic ones who have had contact with COVID-19 patients," he said.

“In this time of crisis, I am confident that the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are ready to hold a special session, if and when President Duterte calls for one, so Congress can legislate urgent measures that will best equip our government with the tools needed to prevent, contain, and mitigate the spread of this lethal strain of the coronavirus,” he said.

Congress went on a seven-week Lenten break and will resume sessions on May 4.

The House leader said that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has disclosed that 1,500 rapid test kits have been donated by South Korea while China is donating another 2,000 kits.

Of Korea's 1,500 rapid test kits, 500 already arrived last week, Duque earlier announced.

"I believe the first order of business for Congress in the event of a special session is to write a law giving a supplemental budget of P10 billion to P15 billion to the Department of Health (DOH) for the acquisition of cutting-edge COVID-19 testing kits--like those used by the Republic of Korea in its apparently successful Drive-Through Testing Stations,” Villafuerte said.

"In these stations, motorists or passengers can get tested for free without even getting out of their vehicles and the results are sent by phone 5 to 6 hours later to those who had availed of the kits," he said.

Quoting media reports,  he said the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has disclosed testing 234,998 persons thus far—or an average of 19,000 per day—through these stations, including asymptomatic ones in contact with infected people.

He said the Republic of Korea has allowed four companies to manufacture the testing kits used in the drive-through stations, enabling it to conduct 140,000 tests each week since that country reported its first infections last month.

Based on the World Health Organization's March 13 official tally, Korea has the world’s fourth biggest number of confirmed COVID-19 infections with 7,979 cases, after China (80,991 cases), Italy (15,113) and Iran (10,075).

Between 400 and 600 new cases per day were recorded in Korea in the first week of March, reports said.

Based on the WHO tally, the cases in the Asian country fell to 114 last Thursday and a lower 110 on Friday.

It was reported that 90 percent of the infections in Korea happened in the southern city of Daegu and its neighboring province of North Gyeongsang.

According to WHO, the total confirmed infections has reached 142,539, with 5,393 deaths in 135 countries,  territories, and areas.