Philippines to buy virus test kits ASAP, says Duterte

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MANILA (The Philippine Star ) — President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the immediate purchase of about 3.3 billion pesos or $65.1 million worth of polymerase chain reaction-based and rapid testing kits through the Office of Civil Defense, as the Philippine government embarks on the mass testing of people for Covid-19.

“I’m clearing the way. I will ask (Health) Secretary (Francisco) Duque to talk to the people in charge…. And they can proceed to buy it immediately, as fast as you can at this time,” Duterte said in his televised address late Monday night.

Presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion, who has been pushing for the purchase and use of rapid testing kits, lauded the president’s decision. He said ordering the kits in bulk would lower their price by $5 to $6 per unit. Concepcion attended the meeting with the president at Malacañang, the presidential palace, earlier on Monday.

At the meeting, Concepcion said the President did the right thing when he placed the main island of Luzon under immediate lockdown. He said Sen. Bong Go, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Action Plan chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles were “instrumental” in approving the initiative of the private sector to revive the economy “in a safe, secure and sustainable manner.”

In his televised address, Duterte noted that the Department of Health is barred from buying such health equipment and supplies without getting the nod of the Health Technology Assessment Council.
While stressing that he recognizes the strict standards followed by government agencies, Duterte said he would direct the procurement of kits and place them under the responsibility of the Office of Civil Defense.

Purchase of the polymerase chain reaction or PCR and rapid testing kits is considered an emergency procurement, the President pointed out.

“I will take the risk. I will order the health department and everybody. In the meantime, the private sector is doing it. Maybe we can take over someday or do it together with your help. I am clearing the way by ordering the purchase since there is no FDA local,” he said, referring to the Food and Drug Administration.

The National Action Plan task group is having difficulty determining the number of Covid-19 cases as more people are showing symptoms of the disease.

“There is a kind of a ruckus now regarding the procurement of the PCR testing kits of 900 (thousand) people, essential kits and other kits in activation supplies, (PCR) consumables, seven (PCR) machines, 10 automated extracting machine and 10 biomedical freezer additional equipment for subnational and regional testing laboratories,” he said.

The President gave the order as his administration assesses the impact of the Luzon-wide lockdown, which is believed to have slowed down the spread of the disease.

The administration is also rushing the unveiling of quarantine facilities in Metro Manila and other regions as hospitals — both private and state-owned — have reached full capacity.

Galvez said the government needs to purchase 40,000 PCR kits which can cover 900,000 tests.

Apart from the PCR kits, Galvez said the government also aims to buy two million rapid test kits but the approximate cost of the kits is not yet available.

“Actually we will test — rapid test two million and 900,000 for the PCR for the confirmatory,” he said.

According to Galvez, there is a need to also conduct a PCR testing on those subjected to rapid testing kits.

“We really have to have a safety for the false positive and false negative with the PCR. And also, in order…for us also to test the efficacy of the rapid test. So that’s the point — that we have to really buy both,” he said.

As of Tuesday, the number of coronavirus cases in the Philippines crossed 5,000 and the death toll moved closer to 350.

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