Metro Manila, the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines, needs to test more people to halt the spread of the disease. Screening the region's entire population of roughly 10 million can be done through pooled testing and it's awaiting word from the Department of Health, one of four pandemic response "czars" said.
As the name implies, pools of 10 to 20 people each will be formed and one from each group will be tested. If negative, the entire pool will be cleared. If positive, the pool will be divided into smaller groups for further testing, said the Testing Czar, Sec. Vince Dizon.
The pooled tests will use RT-PCR technology, which is more conclusive since it detects the presence of the virus on samples taken from the nose and throat using cotton swabs. This is different from the blood-based rapid tests that screens for antibodies, not the virus itself.
By the end of July, the Philippines can test up to 32,000 per day, up from the current 28,000 daily or five times more than South Korea, said Dizon, who is also president of the Bases Conversion Development Authority. The Department of Health set a testing target of 10 million, roughly a tenth of the population, by 2021.
"Finally po, umabot na tayo sa level na 'yun. Hindi tayo hihinto doon. Kung kakayanin, dapat lalo na sa Metro Manila at sa urban centers natin, kung kakayanin sana lahat ng tao ma-test natin (Finally, we reached that level. We won't stop. If we can, especially in Metro Manila and urban centers, we hope to test everyone)," Dizon said in an interview with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque that was aired live on state television on Thursday.
Roque asked Dizon if everyone in Metro Manila could be covered by pooled testing, the Testing Czar replied: "Kakayanin po kung gagamitin natin pooled testing. Lalabas na po yan sa review ng Department of Health (We can do it with pooled testing. That will come out in the review of the Department of Health)."
A pooled test for the entire country however is unlikely, Dizon said when asked by Roque if it could be done. "Hindi naman po lahat kailangan. Ireserba natin ang mga tests sa mga area kung saan nangangailangan (Not everyone will need it. We will reserve the tests for areas that need it.)
There are at least four areas in the Philippines with no confirmed COVID-19 cases, due to their geographic isolation or effective implementation of health standards: Aurora, Batanes, Quirino and the Dinagat Islands.
The Philippines confirmed 2,200 more infections on Thursday, pushing the total to nearly 75,000 as President Rodrigo Duterte prepared to deliver his COVID-themed State of the Nation Address on July 27. Current quarantine classifications are effective until July 31 and Metro Manila risks a return to a lockdown or modified enhanced community quarantine if the rise in cases are not slowed.