‘Major changes’

Palace cites ‘invigorated’ COVID-19 response

By: Leila B. Salaverria - Philippine Daily Inquirer | July 30,2020 - 08:45 AM

MANILA, Philippines — There will be “major changes” in the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, who on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, said the country was unlikely this time to beat experts’ prediction of 85,000 COVID-19 cases by the end of the month.

Roque said the quarantine levels would not matter as much as the “new, invigorated response we will have in this COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Let’s just say things will not be the same. There will be major changes in our response to the pandemic,” Roque said in a television interview.

Duterte to make announcement

He declined to say whether Metro Manila, which is under general community quarantine, would revert to stricter restrictions. He said President Duterte would be the one to announce the decision on quarantine levels on Thursday, July 30.

But Roque indicated that Metro Manila, which has the most number of COVID-19 cases, will serve as a testing ground for the government measures.

“Metro Manila will be a living experiment and it’s an experiment that we believe we can be successful at, and it will be something that we can be proud of,” he said.

Experts earlier recommended placing Metro Manila back on the stringent modified enhanced community quarantine amid the rising number of COVID-19 cases, but the President was prevailed upon to keep the capital region on the lighter general community quarantine.

Roque said the new measures to be implemented would include expanded targeted testing and pooled testing, which could bring down the cost of a swab test to P300, as well as the provision of more quarantines and isolation centers.

“The people will now see the difference in the response that we will have, it is now thoroughly invigorated and part of it is we build capacity and we now have the capacity to do what we wanted from the very beginning,” he said.

Pooled testing

The country can do 30,000 tests a day, but the government aims to increase the number of people being tested through pooled PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing, which has been approved in principle, Roque said.

Pooled testing means using one testing kit for specimens of 10 to 20 people.

If the test turns out positive, every single one person in the pool will be tested again to find out which of them has the disease.

Roque said this would bring down the cost of PCR testing to about P300 per person, since a PCR test costs about P3,000 on average.

“This means one testing kit can be used to test 10 up to 20 [people],” he said.

With pooled testing, the country could test hundreds of thousands of people a day, he added.

Roque described pooled testing as a “game changer” that would allow the government to isolate more COVID-19 patients.

Isolation of patients

As for the isolation of patients, Roque said the large drug rehabilitation center in Nueva Ecija province as well as school dormitories could be used as quarantines.

“They will now see that [the] government will [be] getting more and more isolation facilities. We hope to build around a thousand isolation facilities.

If these are not enough, we will book dormitories, school dormitories. School [is] still out. We will actually attempt to isolate everyone who will turn out positive, because the experience of the other countries is it’s only in this manner that they were able to control the spread of the disease,” he said.

Only patients who have their own rooms and bathrooms will be allowed to self-isolate at home, he said.

Aside from deploying paid contact tracers, Roque said, the government would also build an army of volunteers who would be trained in the use of materials to be provided by Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong to help intensify contact tracing efforts.

“Hopefully, [we’ll] do as Thailand and Vietnam did—up to the third degree of tracing,” he added.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, covid ph, government’s response, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque

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