By William Casis

Health Undersec. Maria Rosario Vergeire clarified that the daily testing capacity mentioned by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque refers to estimated maximum capacity of all the licensed laboratories in the country. 

“The 32,000 (COVID-19 tests per day) is the estimated maximum capacity of all licensed labs in the country based on the number of machines, number of human resources and the operating hours per laboratory,” Vergeire said when asked by reporters.

“This (figure) does not include factors that may affect the operations of each laboratory,” she added.

“Factors that may affect operations include availability of lab supplies in the market, health human resource issues, equipment issues and infrastructure issues.”

Vergeire cited the operations of the laboratories in Bicol and the University of the Philippines National Institute of Health and the Red Cross were affected by typhoon Ambo.

“The testing capacity is 32,000, based on existing resources. What we use is the estimated capacity and the actual capacity of laboratories. Yes, it is also the potential (testing capacity) if you like to use that but we will stick with our terms to avoid confusion,” she added.

Vergeire, however, assured the public that the government will work overtime to conduct 32,000 COVID-19 tests in two weeks with the accreditation of additional laboratories to process test results.

“We have assigned specific teams to focus on laboratories which are on the stages 3 and 4 of the licensing process so, we can guide them and expedite their licensing in the next two weeks,” she said.

“We have identified 17 (prospective)laboratories to be licensed in the next two weeks. Included here would be two labs from PRC which has a huge capacity for testing,” she added.

Likewise, Vergeire said the Health department will provide automated extraction machines which can lessen processing time of samples by four hours per run as well as additional Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) machines in some of the labs.

“Hopefully, with these efforts, we will be able to expand capacity and reach that target,” Vergeire added.

She said the country now has at least 42 DoH-licensed laboratories and 34 RT PCR machines.

The government recently drew flak after Roque said that the government will not pay for mass testing of employees returning to work amid eased quarantine rules which took effect last May 16.

Vergeire said the government is not conducting mass testing because it is practicing expanded targeted testing to focus the country’s limited resources on testing the symptomatic and those who have exposure to COVID-19 patients.