By Genalyn Kabiling, Argyll Cyrus Geducos, Vanne Elaine Terrazola, Analou De Vera, Chito Chavez, Martin Sadongdong and Mario Casayuran
The government is planning to start the massive testing of persons with suspected coronavirus by April 14 amid efforts to build up the capacity to conduct such tests.
As the number of the country’s COVID-19 cases continues to increase, presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. said the government intends to hasten the accreditation of more coronavirus testing facilities.
At present, Galvez, who is also the chief implementer of the government’s action plan against the coronavirus pandemic, said the country now has nine accredited hospitals with the capability to conduct tests. The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) was previously the only government facility conducting laboratory tests for the coronavirus.
“On massive testing for PUIs (patients under investigation) and PUMs (patients under monitoring), we are also determined to fast-track the accreditation of substantial laboratories so we can start the massive testing of PUIs and PUMs. We expect by April 14 we shall be able to start the massive testing,” he added.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the government will prioritize the testing of patients with suspected coronavirus before conducting tests on the larger population.
Nograles said the eight facilities that can now process the tests for the new coronavirus disease are the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, San Lazaro Hospital, UP National Institutes of Health, Lung Center of the Philippines in NCR, Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center in Benguet, Western Visayas Medical Center in Iloilo City, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City, and Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City.
Support for mass testing
“I will support anything that will help contain the virus and keep our countrymen safe,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Friday said the government should conduct the mass testing before deciding to relax the enhanced community quarantine it imposed to make sure that the pandemic is contained.
“I agree to mass testing. Mass testing is essential. This will reduce the transmission rate of the disease and will save more lives,” he told the Manila Bulletin.
Senator Christopher Lawrence ‘’Bong’’ Go, committee chairman and member of the Joint Oversight Committee that oversees the implementation of the ‘’Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,’’ also lauded the decision of the DOH amending its COVID-19 testing protocol to include health workers who are at the front lines in the fight against the virus.
“Kinokomendahan po natin ang DOH sa pagdinig sa ating suhestyon na i-test ang ating mga health workers dahil sila ang pinaka-kailangan natin sa laban na ito. Dapat natin silang alagaan upang maalagaan nila ang mga pasyente,” Go said. (We commend the DOH for heeding our suggestion that health workers be tested because they are needed in fighting the virus. It is important that they are taken care of because they treat patients.)
Sens. Risa Hontiveros and Joel Villanueva, in separate social media posts, also lauded the planned mass testing.
“Finally. Thank you Sec. Galvez. Let’s do this,” Villanueva posted on Twitter.
“To defeat COVID-19 outbreak, we need to isolate more cases, and respond to their treatment and care. Uulitin ko (I repeat): Mass testing will save. We can do this, ‘Pinas (Philippines)!” Hontiveros tweeted.
The government is aiming to convert several large buildings into quarantine facilities to “declog” hospitals overwhelmed with patients, Galvez said.
In the next 10 days, he said they hope to convert the Rizal Sports Complex, World Trade Center, Philippine International Convention Center, and Cultural Center of the Philippines into “mass quarantine facilities.”
The Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) has also allowed the use of the Philippine Arena in Bocaue,Bulacan to be used as a quarantine facility for COVID-19 patients.
“We will also deploy three doctors and 50 nurses at the Rizal Memorial Sports complex coming from the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” he said.
The government is also looking at the possibility of converting the Quezon Institute, the ULTRA stadium, Duty Free Philippines in Parañaque, Amoranto sports complex, Quezon City Memorial Circle complex, and Veterans Medical Center complex into quarantine and isolation facilities.
Galvez said Commission on Higher Education Chairperson Prospero de Vera has also offered to convert convention centers in Bicol and other areas to serve as quarantine centers.
Recovery of patients
Galvez also expressed confidence that more patients will recover from the coronavirus infection. He showed a map of the coronavirus cases, citing that patients are confined in the country’s “best hospitals.”
Among the hospitals that have coronavirus patients are St. Luke’s Medical Center-Global City, St. Luke’s Medical Center-Quezon City, Makati Medical Center, The Medical City, Lung Center of the Philippines, Cardinal Santos Medical Center, Asian Hospital and Medical Center, Manila Doctors Hospital, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, San Lazaro Hospital, University of the East-Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical, Santa Ana Hospital, University of Santo Tomas Hospital, Philippine Heart Center, Quirino Memorial Medical Center, New Era General Hospital, University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital, and Rizal Medical Center.
“I am very confident that we will increase our recovery because we have the best hospitals in these areas. Meaning, the top 10 hospitals where we have more than 500 COVID patients are our best hospitals,” he said.
More PPE arriving this month
Galvez also assured the public that 985,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) sets are due for delivery this month to help front liners in the fight against the deadly disease.
The first batch of the one million PPE procured by the government arrived on March 31. They were distributed to the Armed Forces of the Philippines Medical Center, East Avenue Medical Center, San Lazaro Hospital, Lung Center of the Philippines, Philippine General Hospital, and Jose Rodriguez Memorial Hospital.
Galvez said the government is also waiting for the donation of 30,000 complete sets of PPE from Solaire. Half of these items will be distributed to critical/COVID-19 hospitals in Metro Manila while the rest will go to hospitals in Visayas and Mindanao.
He added that business tycoon Ramon Ang called him up personally to express his intention to donate P500 million worth of PPEs and 100 ventilators.
Galvez said the Indian business community will procure six million face masks to be distributed to Mercury Drugstore and Watsons so the public can purchase them at a lower price.
On the distribution of PPE, Galvez said the Department of Health (DOH) was looking at the bed capacities and the number of COVID-19 patients to identify hospitals that critically need these items.
Office of Civil Defense (OCD) Administrator Ricardo Jalad said around 12,000 PPE sets have been delivered to six COVID-19 referral hospitals in Metro Manila as of Thursday.
He said about 2,780 PPE sets were delivered to San Lazaro Hospital while 2,000 sets were given to the Philippine General Hospital in Manila.
A total of 2,800 sets were delivered to the Lung Center of the Philippines, 1,100 sets to the Armed Forces of the Philippines Medical Center, 770 sets to the East Avenue Medical Center in Quezon City, and 2,590 sets to the Dr. Jose Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Sanitarium in Caloocan City.
When cases peak
The World Health Organization (WHO) said it is still uncertain when the number of COVID19 infections in the Philippines will reach the peak.
“When will the peak happen? That is very unpredictable because it certainly is not going to happen before the 12th of April. The question will be: how do we continue on modifying the enhanced community quarantine after the 12th of April,” said WHO country representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe.
‘Truth will help us contain the virus’
As the government gears up for massive testing, Nograles has appealed to the public to tell the truth about their health status and travel history.
“We cannot overemphasize how important it is for our health professionals and workers to properly identify and treat not just those who have been infected, but potential carriers of the virus as well,” he said.
“Kaya po napakaimportante na magsabi ng totoo sa ating mga doktor at nars, lalo na pagdating sa travel history natin (So it is important to tell the truth to the doctors, nurses especially our travel history). We urge everyone to be completely truthful because many others could suffer if you are not,” he added.
In Olongapo, some doctors have been placed on quarantine because a driver, who lied about the travel history, tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Nograles.
Wear face masks
To help slow down the spread of coronavirus outbreak, Nograles also urged the public to wear face masks when leaving their homes for essential trips.
He noted that the Inter-Agency task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has required all individuals in enhanced community quarantine areas to wear masks or alternatives when they go out of their home.
The DOH on Thursday said that the three hospitals designated as COVID-19 referral centers have already begun operations. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said that the Lung Center of the Philippines (LCP) and Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital (DJNRMH) are now handling COVID-19 patients.
“The Lung Center currently has 22 COVID19 positive patients and 29 persons under investigation (PUIs), while DJNRMH has 14 confirmed cases and 13 PUIs,” said Duque.
The Fe del Mundo Medical Center, a private hospital in Quezon City will begin accepting COVID-19 patients on Monday, April 6.
The hospital management is also looking at the possibility of increasing its bed capacity, which is now at 30 beds.
The University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital already started accepting COVID-19 patients on March 30.
Duque said the Quezon Institute (QI), which is being eyed as one of the community quarantine facilities, is now “preparing to accept patients.”
“We expect the QI to be ready to accept patients by Monday. They now have three triaging tents set up,” said Duque.
Duque also said that the PPE and other medical donations have to pass through the Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) for “inventory and allocation” in accordance with Administrative Order No. 27.