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Progressive solons urge free gov't mass testing amid spike in COVID–19 cases

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Several progressive lawmakers on Monday called for free mass testing in the country amid the recent spike in COVID-19 infections.

Gabriela party-list Representative Arlene Brosas said the decision of the Metro Manila Council to prohibit unvaccinated residents from going out of their homes was not the answer to prevent the increase of cases in the region.

She stressed that the country would remain "blind" to the transmission of the virus amid the absence of free mass testing.

"We should be focusing on free testing, expanded contact tracing, and the boosting of our public health system. However, we are seeing a repeat of the Duterte regime's restrictions on mobility, which have been proven insufficient," Brosas said.

She pointed out that vaccinated people could still be carriers of the coronavirus.

"The recent exponential COVID-19 surge in Metro Manila happened even when 102% of target NCR population is already vaccinated. That is why this latest MMC policy is blind to the actual situation on the ground," Brosas said.

The lawmaker also called on the Department of Budget and Management to clarify if a portion of the 2022 national budget had been allocated to the hiring of contact tracers.

Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Zarate, for his part, also urged the government to implement mass testing as well as proactive contact tracing and a more efficient vaccination program amid the spike in cases.

"We strongly call on Pres. Duterte to finally listen to the oft-repeated but unheeded call for free mass testing because the COVID surges are becoming a vicious cycle," he said.

"As the new year starts with the reimposition of Alert Level 3 in the National Capital Region, we also call on our people to be vigilant as the government may make this a prelude to another militaristic new lockdown," he added.

Zarate said the government must now listen to health experts rather than the military generals in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bayan Muna chairperson and senatorial aspirant Neri Colmenares also said the government must provide free and quick RT-PCR tests for those with COVID-19 symptoms and those exposed to positive cases.

"Local government units and national health agencies should ensure working hotlines that symptomatic and exposed individuals can call to get a free test and advice on quarantine protocols," Colmenares said.

He said workers and employees should be tested for COVID-19 every 14 days using RT-PCR or antigen tests to ensure immediate detection of any outbreak.

"These tests can be fully subsidized by the government or partially shouldered by the employers to ensure compliance," Colmenares added.

According to the human rights lawyer, restrictions will only be effective if it is partnered with intensified mass testing.

The government placed Metro Manila under an Alert Level 3 from January 3 to 15, 2022 amid the increase in COVID-19 cases.

During this period, unvaccinated residents across the metro are directed to stay at home unless they are buying and accessing essential goods and services.

The Department of Health said the increase in COVID-19 infections could be due to the Omicron variant. However, DOH Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said that Omicron was not yet considered as the dominant variant. — DVM, GMA News

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