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New normal requires frequent COVID-19 tests for employees, says Duterte adviser

Employees need to be tested for COVID-19 frequently under a new normal set-up following the enhanced community quarantine, presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion said Friday.

Concepcion made this proposal a day before the National Capital Region, Laguna and Cebu City transition to modified enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) where industries will be allowed to open, provided that social distancing and other protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are observed.

“The only way you can open the economy without the fear of resurgence of the COVID-19 virus is frequent testing. The goal for us is 30,000 COVID-19 tests on a daily basis, but our testing now is still very far from South Korea or Taiwan,” Concepcion said during the hearing of the House Committee on Trade and Industry.

“The problem is, even if you use swab or RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) test or rapid test on employees during the first week of the month, what happens when the employee is infected on the second or third week? That is why you will need frequent testing,” Concepcion added.

The Department of  Health has conducted around 158,000 COVID-19 tests so far.

 Concepcion said that there is a need to combine RT-PCR and the cheaper rapid test kits in testing employees, as well as bring down the cost of both testing methods.

“The RT-PCR test is far more superior, but it also has disadvantages since it is expensive to run a facility, and you need skilled people for it. Also, the swab/RT-PCR test costs P3,500, P4,500 as much as P8,000 each. It is very expensive and I don’t think the private sector can afford that,” Concepcion said.

“That is why we need to combine the rapid test kits with RT-PCR tests, given that our protocol is that the person who tested positive for IgM would need to be subjected to a RT-PCR tests,” Concepcion added.

Testing positive for IgM is a sign of active infection while having IgG indicates that a person has recently recovered.

Each rapid test kit, Concepcion said, should just cost around P450 to P1,000.

But pending the reduction in prices of RT-PCR and rapid test kits, Concepcion lauded the initial 200 private companies which agreed to procure 1.02 million rapid test kits for their employees.

“These are of different brands. We are not telling them which brand to buy, as long as it is FDA-approved. Concepcion said, referring to the Food and Drug Administration.

“400,000 rapid test kits should be arriving this weekend, and close to 200 companies are also coming in [to participate],” Concepcion added.

Concepcion also said that the P25 million funding allocated to boost the COVID-19 response of six government hospitals could also help in bringing down the cost of RT-PCR and rapid test kits.

“If you open the economy, the higher the risk, so we have to do our responsibility to prevent another lockdown until the very day we find the cure for the virus,” Concepcion said. —LDF, GMA News