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House bill on PCR testing for vulnerable sectors approved on 3rd reading

The House of Representatives on Thursday approved on third and final reading the measure that mandates the conduct of baseline Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing as the protocol for COVID-19 testing for the vulnerable members of the society.

Voting 240 in the affirmative, one negative, and zero abstentions, the chamber approved House Bill 6865, or the proposed "Crushing COVID-19 Act," authored by former Health Secretary and now Iloilo Representative Janette Garin.

The measure primarily aims to implement measures to contain and control the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the mortality rate of the disease through early detection and management.

It also seeks to significantly slow down the doubling time for COVID-19 infections and to maximize government resources by applying cost-effective methodology and utilizing pooled baseline polymerase chain reaction COVID-19 testing among the vulnerable members of society.

Under the measure, pooled baseline PCR testing is referred to as “the individual collection of nasopharyngeal and/or oropharyngeal swabs from vulnerable asymptomatics which are subsequently grouped into 10 or five samples mixed from which mixture an aliquot is taken and tested using baseline PCR testing.”

Among those who will undergo pooled baseline PCR testing are patients or healthcare workers with severe or critical and mild symptoms for COVID-19, as well as those who demonstrated no symptoms but with relevant travel history or contact.

Patients or healthcare workers who are deemed to be high-risk due to their exposure, however, may be tested individually.

Non-health frontliners who are responding to the COVID-19 crisis, including personnel manning temporary treatment and quarantine facilities, quarantine control points, National and Regional Local Risk Reduction and Management Teams, Barangay Health Emergency Response Team, among others, will likewise undergo pooled baseline PCR testing.

Apart from them, persons with co-morbidities and other health risks, persons entering the Philippine territory coming from other countries, workers who are holders of quarantine passes who do most of errands for the their families during quarantine, and patients required by their physicians to submit to testing should also undergo baseline PCR testing.

Priority should also be given to healthcare workers; sales personnel in public markets, groceries and supermarkets; food handlers; factory workers; construction workers; security guards; drivers of public utility vehicles; bank and transfer fund facilities personnel; laundry shop workers; house helpers; caregivers; pregnant women; embalmers; wellness and salon workers; uniformed personnel; media personnel; barangay health workers, and family members whose household has a dweller who went abroad from December 2019 until present.

The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) should cover the full cost of testing, including the cost of services of the pathologist, laboratory specialist and other staff.

The measure mandates that the protocols and algorithm for the testing should be done in consultation and coordination with the Philippine Society of Pathologists (PSP) and the Philippine Association of Medical Technologists (PAMET).

"The algorithmic approach may be amended as the case may be to include antigen testing and other new validated assays to further refine the testing methods and make them more economical and scientifically sound and relevant to ensure that this Act is attuned to the new scientific developments and is not outdated," it added.

As of June , a total of 20,382 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the Philippines, with 984 deaths and 4,248 recoveries. —LDF, GMA News