After two months of lockdown and billions spent, President Rodrigo Duterte’s government is still not ready to conduct mass testing for the coronavirus, leaving the responsibility to the private sector.
In a virtual presser yesterday, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said that the government does not have the ability to procure enough test kits amid a global shortage.
“In an ideal world, everyone should be tested [for the coronavirus],” he said in English and Filipino. “But you know, it’s hard because we only have 30 laboratories [that can process these tests]. What we need is not less than 90 [labs] that can complete PCR [based] tests. Second, there’s a shortage of rapid test kits. I know for a fact that it’s hard to buy rapid test kits from China because they want to test people in Wuhan…that’s why the Chinese customs are blocking the export of rapid test kits. At the same time, America is buying all the rapid test kits available. So it’s hard but we are giving recognition to the initiative of the private sector because they have bought rapid test kits for employees [who are going back to work].”
One private-sector initiative is Project ARK, an organization led by a Dr. Minguita Padilla who joined Roque in yesterday’s presser. Padilla said that they have conducted 31,281 rapid antibody tests among workers in Manila, Makati City, Quezon City, Pasig City, and Antipolo City, of which 1,644 or 5.2 percent tested positive.
Roque said that while the Department of Health (DOH) is trying to increase its testing capacity, its Project ARK and private companies’ duty to test workers as the economy reopens. He said this as many employees go back to their workplaces after the government has downgraded lockdowns in different parts of the country.
“As much as possible, we are increasing our capacity for testing, that’s why we are aiming to reach 30,000 [a day] but in terms of mass testing that they are doing in Wuhan where all 11 million [residents will be tested], we don’t have such a program and we will leave that for the private sector [to do],” Roque said.
Netizens have been calling for mass testing since March, saying that identifying and isolating COVID-19 patients is the best way to manage the pandemic. Even the DOH promised last month that they will conduct mass testing, a direct contradiction of Roque’s statement yesterday.
As expected, Roque’s statements drew swift criticism from the public, many of whom pointed out that Duterte’s government remains incompetent despite securing millions of dollars in loans from international financial organizations and being given emergency powers by Congress.
On Twitter, frustrated @z4int wrote, “Article II, Section 4: The prime duty of the Government is to serve and protect the people. This whole government response is just a sh*t show.”
Article II, Section 4: The prime duty of the Government is to serve and protect the people.
— (@z4int) May 19, 2020
Wrote @ricci_richy, “Mid-April, DOH said they’ll do #MassTesting. They had their targets and all. And then we’ll here (sic) from Malacañang that they really didn’t plan for mass testing. They fooled all of us. Yes, they conducted tests but only to a select few. That’s targeted testing. Not mass testing.”
Mid-April, DOH said they’ll do #MassTesting. They had their targets and all. And then we’ll here from Malacañang that they really didn’t plan for mass testing. They fooled all of us. Yes, they conducted tests but only to a select few. That’s targeted testing. Not mass testing.
— ricci (@ricci_richy) May 18, 2020
“Lockdowns, by themselves, only flatten the curve IF you don’t lift it until the vaccine arrives. You can lift the lockdown and still flatten the curve if you used that time to prepare in terms of #masstesting and contact tracing,” @jpquismundo wrote.
Lockdowns, by themselves, only flatten the curve IFF you don’t lift it until the vaccine arrives. You can lift the lockdown and still flatten the curve if you used that time to prepare in terms of #masstesting and contact tracing.
— JP (@jpquismundo) May 18, 2020
Subscribe to The Coconuts Podcast for top trending news and pop culture from Southeast Asia and Hong Kong every Friday!