Duterte to bare ‘major changes’ in pandemic response

By Alyssa Rola, CNN Philippines

The Philippines may soon see “major changes” in its COVID-19 pandemic response, Malacañang said Wednesday ahead of the announcement of new lockdown policies this week.

“Let’s just say that things will not be the same. There will be major changes in our response to the pandemic,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told CNN Philippines’ The Source when asked about new measures to be imposed starting this weekend.

Roque, however, stressed the revamp will focus more on the policies to contain the health crisis— and not the quarantine protocols per se.

These include increased massive testing, “invigorated” tracing, and the establishment of more isolation facilities, the spokesperson noted.

“It’s not so much the classification that will matter, but the new, invigorated responses we will have during this COVID-19 pandemic,” Roque said.

Pooled testing

Roque said that, for one, he sees the country’s COVID-19 testing capacity to further increase— especially with the government’s plan to use the “pooled” approach in the conduct of polymerase chain reaction or PCR tests.

Under the said approach, patients’ samples will be grouped into 10 and will undergo one PCR test— a move officials labeled as more cost-efficient and speedy. Lawmakers who have pushed for the implementation of this protocol also argued it will accelerate the isolation procedures in the country.

Roque said the price for COVID-19 tests is also seen to decrease to as low as ₱300 per person from the usual thousands of pesos charged on patients, given that fewer test kits will be used for this method.

Apart from improvements in testing protocols, Roque said the government will also open up more isolation facilities for patients, including those showing mild symptoms and the asymptomatics.

He added officials will also be converting a drug rehabilitation center in Nueva Ecija to an additional mega isolation facility for virus-hit persons. Vacant school dormitories may also be tapped should the need for more facilities arise, Roque said.

In addition, Roque stressed the Philippines is on track to have “reinvigorated” tracing protocols for the infectious disease, with the help of new COVID-19 tracing czar, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong. These include the creation of an “army of volunteers” to further intensify tracing procedures in the country.

READ: New coronavirus contact tracing czar Magalong: Task is challenging, but not impossible

“The people will now see the difference in the response that we will have. It is now thoroughly invigorated and part of it is we built capacity and we now have the capacity to do what we wanted to do from the very beginning,” Roque said.

Metro Manila, a living experiment

Roque refused to preempt President Rodrigo Duterte’s announcement of the fresh lockdown rules expected on Thursday, noting the recommended classifications are still subject to finalization amid appeals from local government units.

When asked of the possibility of imposing a new quarantine measure in the capital region, Roque only said that Metro Manila will be a “living experiment.”

“I can’t announce it because the President will announce it on Thursday if I’m not mistaken,” Roque said.

“Metro Manila will be a living experiment, and it’s an experiment that we believe we can be successful at and it will be something that we can be proud of,” he added.

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