Adding to its woes since the local outbreak of COVID-19, the Department of Health (DoH) yesterday admitted its failure to reach its target number of tests for the month.
Health Undersecretary and spokesman Maria Rosario Vergeire, in a Laging Handa briefing, disclosed that the DoH could no longer expand and meet its aim of conducting 8,000 COVID-19 tests by today.
Vergeire’s admission further delays the government’s response to a United Nation’s call to “test, test, test” citizens as the world battles a virus pandemic which originated from China.
The DoH, Vergeire said, can only afford to conduct about 5,000 tests per day, further dragging efforts to contain the virus via mass testing.
The private sector, including the Philippine Red Cross and some local government units (LGU) have also started contributing to mass testing efforts.
“It looks like we’re not going to make it but we will still try and push to reach the 8,000 tests by the end of the month,” she said.
Vergeire related some factors which affected the target goal include the scaling down of operations at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) due to a number of health workers who tested positive for the virus.
She relayed that the RITM is currently still recovering towards full operation to reach its initial quota of 1,500 tests per day.
“We were averaging 3,800 to 4,200 (in the) past days, but when RITM scaled down, our operations slowed… decreasing our outputs,” she said.
Vergeire also added that currently, RITM is still on a low scale of its testing capacity.
“They’re still trying to gradually increase their outputs,” she said, noting that RITM has conducted 1,344 tests on Tuesday.
She said that with the arrival of the Gene Xpert cartridges for testing along with other measures, the DoH will continue thriving for the target capacity.
“What we are doing right now is trying to augment our machines, extending hours also, augmenting our staff in our existing laboratories,” Vergeire said.
“We can’t adjust that (8,000 tests) because that’s the set target, but just in case we don’t reach it, we will still try to catch up,” she added.
Majority of Senators have called out Health Secretary Francisco Duque and demanded his resignation for his alleged mishandling of the pandemic.
He was also seen as responsible for the country’s seeming lack of preparations in facing the outbreak, resulting in the scarcity of supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), masks and other hospital needs which could have protected a number of doctors and frontliners in the fight against COVID-19.
The Philippines has lost more than 20 physicians in the forefront of the virus war since it spread quickly in January. These deaths were blamed on the lack of available PPE which could have protected the doctors in going about their duties amid the pandemic.
This as the Philippines breached 8,000 confirmed cases of the virus. With 254 new patients on Wednesday, there is now a total of 8,212 victims in the DoH official tally.
The number of patients who recovered is now 1,023, including those quarantined at home or in isolation facilities.
This is also the 15th day when the total recorded recoveries have surpassed the total number of deaths since 15 April.
The death toll has increased to 558 with 28 additional cases.
Meanwhile, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) recently launched an online portal to be utilized by LGU for better dissemination and understanding of information related to the government’s response to the pandemic.
DILG Secretary Eduardo Año asked local government leaders to make use of the LGU vs COVID PH website as it contains relevant information about the dreaded disease and measures the country is employing to combat it.
An initiative in partnership with Asia Foundation, www.lguvscovid.ph., is an easy-to-use site for local officials and the public.
“LGU can maximize the information available on the website to counter the proliferation of fake news, and sees it as an ally in the battle against the coronavirus, which is foreseen to drag at least until the early quarter of 2021 or until a cure or vaccine can be discovered,” the DILG chief said.
“We are in for the long haul and placing COVID-19 at the forefront of LGU priorities would be the new normal for the local chief executives,’’ he added.
In another development, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin expressed his gratitude to Vietnamese business tycoon Johnathan Hanh Nguyen for his donation of masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday.
Nguyen is the chairman and founder of the MEX Pan Pacific Group (IPPG) which chartered the first direct flight from Ho Chi Minh to Manila back in 1985.
The donation of more than 750,000 masks and 16,500 PPE, was handed over by his son and IPPG-Philippines President Henry Serrano Nguyen.
In the turnover ceremony, Locsin said the donation would be vital in the DFA’s repatriation efforts.
Other officials present during the turnover ceremony at the DFA office were DFA Undersecretary Brigido Dulay, Vietnam Embassy Chargé d’Affaires, a.i Nguyen Hong Hanh and Vietnam Embassy First Secretary Vu Anh Son.
with Kristina Maralit