MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) during a virtual briefing on March 29, recommended  mass testing in the face of surging COVID-19 cases, at  its record-highest 10,016 new infections on the same day.

“Wala po tayong plano na mag-mass testing. The government, since the start of this pandemic, has never advocated for mass testing kasi minsan, nagli-lead yan sa indiscriminate testing,” Health Undersec. Maria Rosario Vergeire said, claiming other countries have also done the same.

While  majority of the cases  detected are asymptomatic, Vergeire said that it should not be the basis to test the whole country.

“Sa kabuuan ng mga kaso, 95 percent are mild. About two to three percent are asymptomatic. Alam natin ang kapasidad ng asymptomatic cases that can transmit also. Kaya kailangan mabilis ang pag-detect, mabilis ang pag-isolate, mabilis ang pag-test,” Vergeire said.

In a report by ABS-CBN News, the country’s positivity rate or the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 reached 17.6 percent according to the DOH’s Sunday COVID-19 Situationer Report.

The rate is much higher than the five percent positivity rate recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for countries planning to reopen.

The report noted that a higher positivity rate means more testing should be done, with Vergeire adding that it is also important “to bring down the number of people actually testing positive.”

“Nag-increase tayo by as much as almost 50 percentin our testing in some of our LGUs kasi nga po nagbabahay-bahay na tayo. That is what we would want to go and employ, so we would help prevent in the increase in the number of cases natin,” Vergeire said, noting they preferred risk-based testing as employed by health workers during house-to-house visits.

“Pumupunta sila sa bawat bahay. Ina-identify sino may sintomas, sino na-expose for the past days. Halimbawa, nakita nila there is a cluster in a household. Hindi na natin kailangan i-identify pa sino naging close contact. Lahat sila ite-test,”she added.

90,000 daily tests in Metro Manila to lower positivity rate

In another report by ABS-CBN News, Vice-president Leni Robredo on March 28, said the Philippine government must intensify COVID-19 testing “to get a more accurate number of virus cases.”

Robredo noted that the Philippines must achieve a five percent positivity rate among those tested based on WHO standards.

On its Sunday COVID-19 Situationer Report, the DOH reported that 16.2 percent of 34,101 people tested for COVID-19 returned positive results.

“If you look at this table, there were 6,936 positive cases for that day. But DOH actually reported more than 9,000 to include the previous positive cases which they have not yet reported,” Roberto said.

“Right now, we’re conducting between 30,000-50,000 tests per day all over the country. But if you look at this table, the positivity rates for some regions are so high that the number of tests we are conducting are no longer enough,” she added.

Robredo said Metro Manila, with a positivity rate of 20.17, needs to conduct 90,000 daily tests to meet WHO’s standards.

“Of course, these numbers will adjust depending on the results of the surveillance testing. But we need to do it now,” she said.

Last week, Robredo also urged the government to “improve” its COVID-19 vaccination campaign and come up with a third stimulus package.

PH Government eyes 25% drop in new COVID-19 infections

In another report by The Philippine Star, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said the weeklong ECQ in the NCR Plus bubble is “expected to slow the growth in the number of infections” as mobility will be limited.

The government, upon declaring a weeklong ECQ from March 29 to April 4, is seeking to reduce the number of daily COVID-19 infections by more than 25 percent.

“I think the expectation is that (the reduction in the number of daily new infections) will be higher than 25 percent because this is ECQ,” Roque said at a press briefing last March 27.

Roque warned that cases will rise again if health and safety measures are relaxed.

“That’s a possibility, so we continue to balance it. We are pursuing our goal to promote the total health of everyone without sacrificing the right to survive, the right not to go hungry,” he said.

“I believe that Filipinos cooperated last year, and they will continue to do so. We just need to have a voluntary stay at home. I’m sure our countrymen will do that,” he added.

Roque noted that the government will intensify contact tracing and testing efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, adding government personnel will conduct house-to-house visits to look for persons with symptoms.

“Actually, if they have symptoms, it is already a ground for isolation… There is no violation of human rights because this is part and parcel of an ongoing quarantine,” the Palace spokesman said.

“We will make sure that local governments will isolate not just those who tested positive but also suspected cases and those who had close contact with them. We will intensify testing, contact tracing within 24 hours of detection,” he added.

He also noted that the government is aiming to buy 500,000 antigen test kits to ensure many people will be tested for COVID-19.

“Also part of our effort is the parallel implementation and the intensified vaccination efforts in high-burden areas. That includes Metro Manila, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Bulacan, and also Cebu City and Davao City,” Roque said.