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IATF’s plans: 10K COVID tests in Cebu’s labs in a day

By: Morexette Marie B. Erram - Reporter/CDN Digital | May 23,2020 - 08:20 PM
COVID-19 TESTING |INQUIRER.NET FILE PHOTO

COVID-19 TESTING |INQUIRER.NET FILE PHOTO

CEBU CITY, Philippines — The national government is planning to ramp up the daily coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing capacity of Cebu to 10,000 within the next two months.

Top officials from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) announced this in a virtual press conference on Saturday, May 23.

“The 10,000 capacity target for Cebu can be met within one to two months, but the substantial capacity of maybe roughly between 5,000 to 7,000 can be met within one month,” said Secretary Vivencio Dizon, deputy chief implementer of IATF-MEID.

The IATF-MEID, often known as IATF, is the national government’s anti-coronavirus task force.

Dizon, together with IATF-MEID chief implementer, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., was in Cebu on Saturday to inspect and monitor the pandemic’s situation here ‘under the orders of President Rodrigo Duterte’.

Expanding Cebu’s testing capacity would be crucial for the revival of the island’s economy as well as prevent the onset of a second wave of COVID-19 cases here, said Dizon.

“The key to preventing a second wave and the key to slowly reopening the economy of Cebu is to build up the testing capacity,” he said.

READ MORE: IATF wants CV’s testing capacity increased to address ‘gap’ among provinces

Central Visayas, where Cebu is found, has recorded more than 2,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases with at least 43 deaths and 141 recoveries as of May 21. It is the area outside the National Capital Region with the highest count of coronavirus cases, which is mainly attributed to ‘aggressive and massive testing’ conducted by local governments.

More equipment, more labs

Among the strategies the IATF-MEID undertook to achieve this goal, Dizon said, was to speed up construction of new laboratories and increase testing capacities of existing molecular laboratories by providing them additional equipment.

He announced that with the arrival of two automated RNA (ribonucleic acid) extractors for Cebu’s two government labs — found in Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) and the compound of the Department of Health in Central Visayas (DOH-7) — the province could carry out up to 2,000 tests in a day.

“Once those automated extractors go online, it will increase exponentially the tests conducted in those two laboratories to a minimum of 2,000 tests per day. We can do that in less than a week or a week’s time,”  added Dizon.

Presently, there are only three accredited COVID-19 laboratories in Cebu and all cater to specimens sent from all parts of Central Visayas.

Dizon also announced that the province will host three more molecular laboratories to conduct real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests.

These would be set up at the Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA), and at Cebu Doctors Hospital, a privately owned hospital, through donations from pharmaceutical giant Unilab, he said.

The latter would be expected to officially start its operation ‘within two to three weeks’ or when it could gain full accreditation from authorities, said Dizon.

READ MORE: Cebu airport to build COVID-19 test laboratory

“The chairman and Senator Dick Gordon of (Philippine National Red Cross) has also promised another laboratory in Cebu with a capacity of 4,000 tests per day… If we’re going to add up all of these… we’re looking at a capacity of Cebu and Central Visayas of up to 10,000 tests a day. So that’s our goal,” he added.

Dizon also said they would be considering to also put up more molecular laboratories in other parts of Central Visayas such as Bohol and Negros Oriental to ‘decentralize’ COVID-19 testing. /dbs

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