Gov’t will still use rapid antibody test for ‘screening’ but recognizes PCR testing as ‘gold standard’ — Roque

Published August 4, 2020, 5:26 PM

by Genalyn Kabiling

The government has no plan yet of halting the use of rapid antibody test kits to help screen people infected with the coronavirus disease.


Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the rapid diagnostic test is still useful to check the presence of coronavirus antibodies in individuals. 

Those who test positive in rapid testing however must still undergo confirmatory test using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test method, according to Roque.

“Uulitin ko lang po ang sinabi ng Presidente, marami po tayong hindi alam dito sa sakit na ito at ang rapid test naman ay mayroon po siyang silbi (I will repeat what the President said. There are many things we don’t know about this disease and the rapid test has its use),” Roque said during a televised press briefing Tuesday.

“Hindi po talaga siya ginagamit para malaman kung sino ang may sakit. Ginagamit lang po siya para malaman kung sino iyong mayroon nang antibodies na posibilidad na nagkasakit na nang sa ganoon ay makabalik sa kanilang mga trabaho. At ang rapid test po bagamat ginamit po natin iyan, it is always subject to PCR tests. (It is not used to determine if the person is infected. It is used to determine who has antibodies of possible infection so one can return to work. Although we use the rapid test, it is always subject to PCR tests),” he said.

Roque said they still consider PCR testing as the “gold standard” to determine if one is infected with the coronavirus. Rapid antibody test is just an “initial screening,” he added.

“Gold standard ang PCR pero mayroon din po tayong gamit para sa rapid testing kits. (PCR testing is gold standard but rapid testing kits are still useful),” he said.

Several health experts have opposed rapid antibody testing in the workplace amid concerns it gives inaccurate results. Such diagnostic tests supposedly create a false sense of security and puts further strain on companies as well as healthcare system.

Dr. Antonio Dans of the Philippine Society of General Internal Medicine is among those opposed to the use of rapid antibody test kits. He claimed that the tests detects only the antibody against the disease, not the actual coronavirus.

The government, meantime, has committed to step up expanded testing to detect, isolate and treat people  with the infection.

Roque said the government is now capable of conducting 30,000 tests per day.  He told the public not to be confounded with the increase in the coronavirus cases, saying this was a result of the government’s testing efforts. 

“Ibig sabihin lang niyan gumagana iyong ating  istratehiya na mas maraming testing, para mas marami tayong ma-isolate ng hindi na dapat kumalat ang sakit at mas malaki iyong tracing na gagawin natin. (It means that our strategy of more testing is working so we can trace and isolate more to avoid transmission),” he said.

As part of the intensified testing strategy, Roque said residents in communities under “hard lockdown” must undergo PCR testing if possible. The 30 to 37 close contacts of the coronavirus patient must also be tested through PCR method.

Roque admitted though that the country does not have yet enough PCR testing capacity for its population of 110 million.

But if pooled testing method is implemented, Roque said more people can be tested using fewer supplies. “Siguro po kapag puwede na ang pooled testing, we can confidently say lahat na po ay PCR testing. (Maybe if pooled testing is possible, we can confidently say everyone will undergo PCR testing),” he said.

He noted that private sector-led Project ARK plans to conduct group testing of five persons especially after cases of infections increased in Metro Manila.

He said although PCR is regarded as gold standard in testing, it does not always guarantee accurate results.

“Kagaya ng lahat ng test, hindi rin po 100% na guaranteed ang PCR test. Marami pong nagpo-false positive at false negatives din po diyan sa PCR test kagaya ng rapid test kits. So, lahat po ng magagamit natin, gagamitin natin (Like other tests, PCR tests are not 100 percent guaranteed. Many are false positive and false negatives in PCR tests like rapid test kits. So everything that we can use, we will use them),” he said.

Roque however is unaware about the frequency of President Duterte’s coronavirus testing. 

“Well, hindi ko po alam exactly (Well I don’t know exactly),” he said when asked about the last time the President took the coronavirus test. 

But Roque said Cabinet members and other officials are required to undergo testing before they meet the President.  The testing protocol is part of the health measures implemented by the Presidential Security Group to ensure the President’s protection.

“Because I regularly see the President together with 4 or 5 other members of the Cabinet, I get tested every 14 days for COVID. And I am tested via rapid test kit every time I see the President,” Roque said.