With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the whole world, local celebrities are joining the call to implement free mass testing here in the Philippines. On March 14, Bianca Gonzalez wrote: "I really hope budget is released for the production of more testing kits because FREE MASS TESTING is just as important as the quarantine."
Winwyn Marquez tweeted, "Please please FOLLOW PROTOCOL. Unahin ang symptomatic patients, frontline health workers, and communities with confirmed cases. Kung may available na, na test kits, unahin ang kailangan unahin...sana magawa..I'm hoping na gawin na. #MassTestingPH #FreeMassTestingNOWPH."
Alex Gonzaga, Luis Manzano, and KC Concepcion, among others, have also joined the call.
On March 20, Department Of Health (DOH) undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said: "Sa ngayon po, hindi pa naman nakikitang kailangan nating gawin itong mass testing na ito pero nasa talaan, nasa mapa, nasa radar, na kung sakaling dumating yung panahon, and if we have enough resources and the government can do it, and it is already imperative for the government to do it, gagawin po natin 'yan kung saka-sakali."
On March 23, DOH denied claims that there is a "VIP treatment policy" going on, with reports saying that certain asymptomatic politicians and officials are allegedly having their tests done at home. "All specimens are being processed on a first-in, first-out basis," their statement read. However, DOH also said that testing is done "with courtesy accorded to officials holding positions of national security and public health."
As of the writing of this article, the DOH has reported a total of 501 COVID-19 cases, 33 casualties, and 19 recoveries in the Philippines.
The call for mass testing does not mean that everyone in the country has to be tested, of course. According to Mass Testing Now PH, this simply means that all Persons Under Investigation (PUI) and Persons Under Monitoring (PUM), along with frontline healthcare workers and vulnerable sectors of the population—including the elderly—should be tested. This also means that there will be no VIP treatment for anyone.
One country that has been very aggressive with regards to mass testing is South Korea. The BBC reported that in South Korea, nearly 20,000 people are tested every day for coronavirus and that "the whole process from test tube to test result is about five to six hours." The country has managed to create a network of 96 public and private laboratories to test for coronavirus, and health officials believe this approach may be saving lives.
In Marikina City, a molecular laboratory center has been established to start using locally developed testing kits. However, according to The Philippine Star's interview with Mayor Marcy Teodoro, the DOH has suspended the city government's plan to proceed with mass COVID-19 testing.
At present, the Luzon is under "enhanced" community quarantine and the government has declared the country under a state of calamity. Everyone is required to stay home (with a few exemptions), work, as well as mass transport facilities, is suspended, and an 8:00 p.m to 5:00 a.m. curfew is being enforced in certain cities.
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