Updated at 1:10 p.m. ET on 2020-04-13
The mayors of Manila and other nearby cities said Monday they had started independent testing for coronavirus infections in their localities, as the national government prepared to launch mass-testing across the country, amid criticism that it was slow to take such action.
The Philippine capital as well as Quezon and Valenzuela – two major cities in Metro Manila – have begun gathering samples from residents with testing kits approved earlier by the health department, officials said.
“The Manila city government is now capable of conducting more than a thousand COVID-19 swab tests a week as it begins its localized targeted mass-testing operations in the nation’s capital,” the office of Mayor Francisco Damagoso said in a statement.
Damagoso gave the go-ahead to “conduct localized mass testing” for the city’s six district hospitals, the statement said.
Facilities would collect all swab tests to be processed by the Department of Health, which said results would be known within two or three days.
Quezon City and Valenzuela have also begun carrying out their own tests. On Monday, dozens of Quezon City residents with COVID-19 symptoms were tested, and those who tested negative were allowed to return home, city officials said.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, the national government was scheduled to begin a mass testing program at 15 centers across the country. Government officials expressed confidence that they could conduct 3,000 tests per day for COVID-19.
“As of yesterday, a total of 33,814 individuals have been tested for COVID-19,” said Karlo Nograles, spokesman for the interagency task force to battle the disease, referring to officials and Filipino citizens who had been tested earlier after being taken to hospitals when they displayed the flu-like symptoms associated with the virus.
“As the government ramps up testing and more cases are identified, the next concern is ensuring that there are adequate number of quarantine facilities and beds around the country,” he said.
On Monday, the government recorded 18 new fatalities from the virus, taking the country’s death toll to 315 with a cumulative 4,932 infections. On Sunday, the nation recorded 50 deaths, its highest toll from the coronavirus in a single day.
Globally, more than 115,000 people have died and at least 1.8 million have been infected, according to the latest data compiled by disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
In the Philippines, people who have been tested so far represent a tiny fraction of the country’s estimated 100 million population, a majority of which live on northern Luzon Island.
The government has placed the entire island on lockdown until the end of the April, and other provinces and cities in the Philippines have implemented their own lockdown orders to contain the virus.
Jose Antonio Custodio, an analyst with the Institute of Policy, Strategy and Development Studies, said tests in the Philippines did not reflect the overall scenario.
“With that strategy, the true picture is going to be hidden from both government and the public,” he said. “Badly conceived ‘guestimates’ and even fabrications are the obvious outcome of that, which will severely cost the people and also our healthcare workers.”
He said the approach should be that the government seeks out communities where people have been infected and not wait for the sick to be reported.
ADB triples financial aid
Also on Monday, the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) said it had tripled to $20 billion its anti-COVID-19 measures to help the economies of member-states recover from the pandemic’s knock-on effects.
The package expanded the bank’s initial response of $6.5 billion that the ADB announced last month to help its members weather the severe economic and health impacts of COVID-19.
“This pandemic threatens to severely set back economic, social and development gains in Asia and the Pacific, reverse progress on poverty reduction and throw economies into recession,” ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa said in a statement.
The aid, he said, would be delivered faster to members to “help them address the urgent challenges in tackling the pandemic and economic downturn.”
In late March, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte unveiled a package of nearly U.S. $4 billion to stimulate the economy and assist informal sector workers and people whose income had dried up as a result of the pandemic.