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Lack of men, machines limit tests

Francis Wakefield

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Limited laboratory equipment and lack of personnel hinder the Philippines from reaching the maximum testing capacity of COVID-19 laboratories nationwide, the Department of Health (DoH) said Monday.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the estimated capacity of all laboratories across the country stands at 32,000. But based on DoH data, these facilities administered only less than 12,000 tests daily in recent days.

“Factors that may affect operations include the availability of lab supplies in the market, health human resource issues, equipment issues and issues in infrastructure,” Vergeire said.

She added that the estimated testing capacity of COVID laboratories is based on the number of machines, human resources, and operating hours of each facility.

Vergeire issued the clarification after presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the country has exceeded its target of 30,000 testing capacity at the end of the month.

The problem, however, was that the government vowed to conduct 30,000 actual tests daily — which is different from testing capacity — by 30 May.

During the same press briefing, Roque said the government is eyeing to have 66 laboratories nationwide, capable of conducting real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests.

So far, there are 34 laboratories nationwide which are accredited to administer RT-PCR tests, with eight other facilities licensed to conduct tests using GeneXpert cartridges. The DoH is processing the application of 120 other laboratories.

Vergeire said the DoH has assigned health workers to expedite the licensing of Stage 3 and Stage 4 laboratories to further increase the testing capacity of the country.

Seventeen laboratories could be possibly be licensed in the next two weeks, Vergeire said, including two facilities owned by the Philippine Red Cross.

“We have provided automated extraction machines which can lessen time for processing of samples by four hours per run. Also, we have added additional RT-PCR machines in some labs,” she added.

Roque also noted that the DoH has recently converted the Philippine Arena, SM Mall of Asia Arena, Enderun tent and Palacio de Manila into mega swabbing centers.

Meanwhile, Roque said President Duterte is set to have a meeting with religious groups in Malacañang on Tuesday, 26 May to determine when community activities would be permitted.

“The Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), to be led by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, will help conduct the meeting in Malacañang,” Roque said.

Roque also disclosed that the IATF-EID has approved the amendments, revisions and/or Clarifications to the Omnibus Guidelines on the Implementation of Community Quarantine in the Philippines.

The IATF Resolution 38 allowed to fully operate in ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) are public or private hospitals, health and emergency frontline service — dialysis center, chemotherapy centers and the like; manufacturers of medicines, medical supplies and equipment including suppliers; workers in agriculture, forestry and fishery industries and delivery and courier services such as food, medicine, essential goods, clothing, accessories, hardware, housewares, school/office supplies, pet food and veterinary products.

Allowed to operate under ECQ with 50 percent operational capacity are private establishments providing essential goods and services, media establishments and workers in railway — related projects accredited by the Department of Transportation.

Allowed in ECQ with skeleton force are printing presses authorized by the Bureau of Internal Revenue to print receipts and accountable forms; repair and maintenance of machine, including computers and household fixtures and real estate activities.

Also allowed in ECQ, MECQ and GCQ are gatherings that are for the provision of critical government services and authorized humanitarian activities.

with MJ BLANCAFLOR
@tribunephl_MJB

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