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COVID-19 test not mandatory for returning workers -Bello

Employees need not undergo mandatory COVID-19 test before they can go back to work under eased quarantine protocols, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Monday.

Interviewed on Unang Hirit, Bello said only those showing symptoms of COVID-19 should be required to undergo the test.

“Hindi mandatory ang COVID-19 testing. Kung symptomatic, i-test dapat. Pero kung hindi po, hindi mandatory ‘yan,” he said.

Selected industries have been allowed to resume operations under the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) as well as under general community quarantine, provided that only 50% of the workforce will be physically present.

Bello said employers must comply with minimum health standards such as having the temperature of workers checked and implementing strict sanitation protocols.

“We have drafted guidelines with the Department of Trade and Industry. Dapat compliant ang lahat sa minimum health standards to prevent contamination and COVID-19 transmission,” he said.

Bello’s position was echoed by the Department of Health.

“Our protocol is to guide employers. We have emphasized that symptomatic screening is ideal, and test only when symptomatic,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire in a statement.

“[Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases] Resolution stated that in no case should testing be a condition for return to work, so we expect that specific agencies will implement IATF Resolutions.”

Shuttle services

Bello said employers have been advised to provide shuttle services for their workers if they want them to be physically present, since mass transport is still banned in MECQ areas while a scaled down mass transport is being implemented in GCQ areas.

“Hindi natin mao-obliga na magbigay sila ng shuttle service para sa kanilang mga employees, pero kung nire-require nila na pumasok ang kanilang mga workers, dapat i-provide nila ang shuttle service. Kasi kung hindi, hindi rin sila makakapasok kasi walang sasakyan eh,” Bello said.

Previously, President Rodrigo Duterte imposed the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon, which entailed sweeping restrictions on travel and mass gatherings as well as closure of schools and most businesses. Local government units outside of Luzon followed suit.

On Saturday, May 16, the ECQ in Metro Manila, Laguna and five other provinces was modified to allow selected establishments to open and to jumpstart the economy severely affected by the pandemic.

Based on Resolution No. 37 of the IATF, the following areas are under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) effective Saturday, May 16, to last until Sunday, May 31:

  • highly urbanized cities of the National Capital Region and municipality of Pateros
  • Bataan
  • Bulacan
  • Nueva Ecija
  • Pampanga including Angeles City
  • Zambales
  • Laguna

The government said Metro Manila and Laguna continue to be considered high risk in the transmission of the deadly virus.

The Philippines has recorded 12,513 COVID-19 cases as of Sunday, May 17. Of this number, 2,635 had recovered while 824 had died.

ECOP appeal

Meanwhile, the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) on Monday called on the government to provide mass testing for private employees on the coronavirus disease.

Interviewed on Dobol B sa News TV, ECOP chairman Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr. said most businesses do not have the capacity to finance the tests, even if such test is not mandatory.

"Hindi naman compulsary 'yun, kaya lang 'yung mga kompanya, if you want to be sure, you might as well do it," he said.

"Kung hindi mo naman gagawin 'yung testing mo eh baka naman may magkasakit sa 'yo eh hindi masyadong maliwanag kung hanggang saan ang responsibilidad mo," he added.

"Baka mamaya 'pag may magkasakit, at alam mo naman, 90% sa mga enterprises na puwedeng magbukas eh mga ano 'yan, mga micro 'yang mga 'yan, walang capacity mamili ng testing mga marami diyan."

Second wave

Senator Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, insisted that employees who would return to work amid the relaxed restrictions must undergo COVID-19 test.

"We need to test workers returning to work. This needs to be arranged by employers and DOH," Hontiveros said on Twitter.

"We can't ease quarantine if we're not doing mass testing. Na-commit nga natin sa POGO, ba't hindi sa mga Pilipino?" 

Hontiveros stressed that the country cannot afford a "second wave" of COVID-19 transmissions. --KBK, GMA News