By EUGENE C. FERNANDEZ
MANILA – Amid the surge of the new variant of COVID-19 Omicron, the Coalition for People’s Right to Health (CPRH) renewed its call for free mass testing.
Metro Manila has been placed in Alert level 3 because of the rapid increase of cases of the more infectious variant Omicron. In a statement, CPRH underscored once again the importance of free mass testing to control the spread of the Omicron variant, which can infect as 12 to 16 other individuals.
“This [mass testing] is the cornerstone of any COVID-19 response, and is the starting point of other, yet equally as important, interventions—contact tracing, quarantine and isolation, and treatment,” the group said.
“We must not neglect testing the way it has been in past two years. Access to testing must be ensured, especially for symptomatic individuals, and those who cannot work from home regardless of vaccination status,” CPRH said.
CPRH noted that the Inter Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) and Department of Health (DOH) failed to comply on their promise of 90,000 to 100,000 tests per day, with 20,000 to 30,000 tests per day made in December of 2021. “This only shows a testing system based on demand and symptoms instead of active surveillance,” the group said.
CPRH said that 28 provinces are still without a testing laboratory and three others without a public facility, the integral aspect of testing is still neither free nor accessible to all Filipinos.
The group said the price of COVID-19 testing remains prohibitive, at P2,800 (US$54.81) for public and P3,360 ($65.77) for private. It doesn’t help, the group added, that PhilHealth reduced its coverage or subsidy for testing in December 2021, with the benefit package for PCR testing reduced to P800-P2,800 ($15.66-$54.81) from P901-P3,409 ($17.64-$66.73).
CPRH said testing be made as accessible as possible, removing obstacles of proximity and cost, as part of a more robust disease surveillance system. “Omicron and future variants will continue to infect people, both vaccinated and unvaccinated; we must be one step ahead in detecting and preventing its spread in communities,” it said.
The CPRH added that with the pandemic entering its third year in the Philippines and across the world, those handling the response should have learned from the evidence in mitigating the spread of the virus. The group lamented that local authorities “have put so much premium on vaccination over other interventions to the point that it has now resorted to locking down the unvaccinated and allowing essential services like testing to be paid out-of-pocket.” (RVO)