Genome sequencing capacity to be expanded; better COVID response eyed

Published August 2, 2021, 4:34 PM

by Roy Mabasa

Malacanang on Monday said the government is now taking steps to expand the country’s genome sequencing capacity in response to reports that the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) is seeking at least P100 million to conduct wider sequencing operations in the Visayas and Mindanao.

“While I will agree that the government is already taking steps to expand our genome sequencing capacity, I will probably disagree that there was lack of foresight,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said at the Palace press briefing.

Roque emphasized that what is important right now is that the government is having “vigorous” testing.

“Kahit ano pang variant ‘yan, dapat alam natin kung sino ang dapat i-isolate (It doesn’t matter whatever variant is that, we should know who to isolate) and that’s something that we have been pursuing. We are, in fact, the third-highest, as far as testing rates are concerned, in our area of the world,” the President’s spokesman said.

Roque maintained that even if the specific type of COVID-19 infecting the people is unknown, what is important is that those infected are properly identified.

“I don’t think there’s a lack of foresight. Even if we don’t know the specific type of COVID-19 that is infecting our people, we know who among us, at least, infected. Whatever variant it is, we are following the same protocol: isolation, contact tracing, treatment,” he added.

Last week, the PGC said they would need P50 million each for its satellite centers in Visayas and Mindanao to be able to conduct whole genome sequencing which checks the presence of COVID-19 variants in positive samples.

This came amid reports that four variants of COVID-19 have already reached the Philippines. These are the Alpha, Beta, Delta and Gamma which were earlier classified by the World Health Organization as being “of concern.”

Roque said the P100 million budget for the PGC may come from the 2022 budget that the two houses of Congress have yet to deliberate on.

“If I’m not mistaken po, that should be in the 2022 national budget. But if it is not, gagawan po natin ng paraan na mapasama ‘yan. Sisimulan pa naman po ng talakayan ng parehong kapulungan ng Kongreso ang ating pang-taunang budget for 2022 (we will find a way to have it included. Deliberations will start in both chambers for 2022 budget),” according to Roque.