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Mass testing: Private initiatives, not government

The Palace on Monday said it has no plan to carry out mass testing to detect COVID-19 infections, saying it will leave such activities in the hands of private companies.

“As much as possible, we are increasing our capacity for testing. That’s why we’re aiming to reach 30,000 tests a day,” Roque said in Filipino at a press briefing. “But in terms of mass testing like they are doing in Wuhan, where all 11 million residents are being tested, we have no such program and we will leave that to the private sector.”

After the COVID-19 outbreak, private companies organized Project ARK or Antibody Rapid Test Kits, which has raised 1 million test kits for the use of barangays as well as for workers looking to return to work.

READ: New infections slow at 208

"We cannot hide from the virus forever. We have guidelines on how to go back to work... For asymptomatics, government will not test because they do not have the capability and they do not have enough PCR tests, so we are helping,” said the headof the Project ARK medical team Dr. Minguita Padilla. She said the private sector has also procured additional reverse transmission-polymerase chain reaction or RT-PCR kits and machines to be installed in government-run hospitals to boost capacity.

Several local government units have also begun local testing to reduce infections within their communities.

The country's 30 testing laboratories can currently process up to 14,500 samples per day, not even half of the 30,000 target.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on Monday said workers are not required to undergo COVID-19 tests before they can go back to work, but advised employers to strictly observe health protocols to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said if a worker shows symptoms of the disease, the employee must undergo testing.

Some establishments were allowed to resume operations after the government eased quarantine protocols to preserve jobs as the country slowly transitions into the new normal amid the global health pandemic.

READ: Local Roundup: Workers shuttle in ‘new normal’

“COVID-19 testing is not mandatory. But if the worker is symptomatic, there is a need to conduct testing,” Bello said, adding that employers must comply with minimum health standards such as having the temperature of workers checked and implementing strict sanitation protocols.

Selected industries have been allowed to resume operations under the modified enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) as well as under general community quarantine (GCQ), provided that only 50 percent of the workforce will be physically present.

Bello said employers were advised to provide shuttle services for their workers if they want them to be physically present, since mass transport is still banned in modified ECQ areas while a scaled-down mass transport is being implemented in GCQ areas.

“We cannot force the to provide shuttle service for their employees, but if they need to be physically present, they should provide shuttle service,” Bello said.

In a separate advisory, DOLE also said the cost of preventing the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces as provided for in its joint guidelines with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) should be shouldered by employers.

Labor Advisory No. 17 “highly encourages” work-from-home and telecommuting for employees in businesses and industries already allowed to resume operations under the modified enhanced community quarantine or general community quarantine.

It also spells out a menu of alternative work arrangements that employers may resort to in order to forestall further business reverses, while at the same time protecting jobs, preventing closures and termination of workers.

READ: Workers’ return triggers warning

The number of COVID-19 cases rose to 12,718 nationwide as the Department of Health (DOH) reported 205 new infections Monday, the first work day under loosened quarantine restrictions in most areas of the country.

Of the new cases, 145 or 70 percent came from Metro Manila.

The department also reported seven new fatalities, bringing the total death toll to 831.

At the same time, 94 patients recovered from the disease, bringing total recoveries to 2,729.

Amid reports of heavy traffic and lack of social distancing in public areas, Malacañang warned that the enhanced community quarantined can still be reinstated.

The Palace also said that the government cannot afford to shoulder testing costs for private employees, even as 50 to 70 percent of the workforce returns to duty under the new quarantine measures.

Also on Monday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. asked authorities to arrest the overseas Filipino workers who escaped from Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) quarantine facilities.

“Arrest them, contact trace, and test everyone they got in contact with,” Locsin posted on his Twitter account.

Locsin also suggested that photos of subpar quarantine facilities where the OFWs were transferred to should also be taken.

PCG spokesperson Commodore Armand Balilo earlier said that the workers, some of whom have tested positive for the coronavirus, left their quarantine facility even before their test results were released.

Balilo said that charges could be filed against them for violating the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

All Filipino migrant workers returning to the country are required to undergo a 14-day quarantine and rapid antibody testing for COVID-19 upon arrival.

About 25,000 OFWs have so far been repatriated since February amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In related developments:

* Senator Francis Pangilinan said he wants to investigate the alleged overpricing of medical supplies for the government's campaign to control the spread of COVID-19. This after Senator Panfilo Lacson said billions of pesos in taxpayers money may have lined the pockets of corrupt public officials behind the procurement of overpriced personal protective equipment (PPE) and swabbing supplies. The PPEs are for health workers caring for patients and the swabbing supplies used in the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for suspected new coronavirus carriers.

* The labor group Defend Jobs Philippines on Monday said clear policies and protocols to prevent COVID-19 in the workplace should be formulated in consultation with workers and their organizations. In a statement, Defend Jobs cited the need to ensure working and adequately stocked and manned clinics, infirmaries and health facilities are in the workplace. The group also demanded that safety officers and health committees in the workplace be appointed. Workers should be required to undergo coronavirus testing, regular checkups, thermal scanning, disinfection and sanitation procedures, the group added. Employers must also provide workers with accommodation and transportation, Defend Jobs said, while those who fail to enforce COVID-19-related measures must be penalized.

Topics: COVID-19 , mass testing , Project ARK , Harry Roque , Department of Labor and Employment
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