Asymptomatic Cavite Governor says sorry for taking COVID-19 test amid shortage

Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla. Photo: Remulla/FB
Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla. Photo: Remulla/FB

Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla has publicly apologized for being tested for COVID-19 in spite of a Department of Health (DOH) policy prioritizing testing of the elderly and symptomatic suspected patients amid a shortage of testing kits in the country.

In a tweet last night Remulla acknowledged ignoring the “protocol and triage algorithm set by the DOH.”

The 52-year-old governor said he had attended a meeting in Cavite on Monday where one of the participants showed symptoms of the new coronavirus. “I had myself swabbed and the samples sent to RITM [Research Institute of Tropical Medicine] for verification,” he said.

“I take full responsibility if you think I took advantage of my position,” Remulla added.

Remulla’s apology came after Filipinos took to social media to criticize government officials for taking the test despite being asymptomatic, citing fears that they could be taking tests away from those more in need amid the limited supply of COVID-19 testing kits.

It’s unclear exactly how many politicians and public officials have been tested for the novel coronavirus, but at least 13 have been so far, including Remulla, Health Secretary Francisco Duque, and President Rodrigo Duterte. Health authorities, meanwhile, are conducting some 250 tests a day, according to Duque.

One politician to undergo testing is Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, who was tested after learning that an aide present at a four-hour Senate hearing on March 5 had tested positive for the virus. Though he was asymptomatic, Zubiri tested positive, but Duque told radio station DZMM early this week that Zubiri may undergo another test in case his initial swabbing was a “false positive.”

“If not for our current limitations in testing capacity, I want him to redo the test…Because it is not really 100 percent. There are some false positive cases that fall through. I want another test.”

Zubiri, however, told the outlet that no concrete plans for another test are currently in place.

Senators Nancy Binay and Sherwin Gatchalian, who were also present in the March 5 hearing, both tested negative for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, despite calls from Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto’s for all senators to be tested following Zubiri’s diagnosis, senators Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros have refused to take the test. Both are asymptomatic, and have gone into self-quarantine in accordance with DOH protocols.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, meanwhile, told reporters today that the government may change it’s COVID-19 testing rules with the expected arrival of additional screening kits, both donated and purchased.

“With more kits coming, then perhaps there is a chance that we will be updating the protocols… We leave it to the DOH to find the best procedure to all of those testing kits that we expect to come,” Nograles said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said yesterday that China is donating 100,000 test kits to the Philippines, while billionaire Alibaba founder Jack Ma will also donate 50,000 kits, according to Senator Manny Pacquiao.

Nograles, however, noted that COVID-19 testing kits must be processed in well equipped laboratories to yield accurate results. The RITM in Muntinlupa is currently the Philippines’ sole COVID-19 testing facility, but Nograles said that authorities are preparing at least five more labs to process tests.

Previously, the DOH has said that infections in the country could rise to as high as 75,000 in three months based on modeling forecasts, but that implementing measures like the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon can help “flatten that peak.”

As of this morning, the Philippines has recorded 202 cases, including 17 who died, and 7 patients who recovered from the disease.

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