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Bacolod City, Philippines Wednesday, May 20, 2020
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Testing at your own expense

Rock & Refuge

There was so much talk of the national government conducting mass testing, targeting 30,000 tests a day in at least 80 accredited laboratories nationwide as their benchmark in addressing COVID-19 by end of May.

All that went pffftt as weeks later, government changed its tune and are passing on testing of workers to the private sector. If there are mass testing being conducted elsewhere, these are mostly through rapid test kits sourced from private donations and those purchased by local government units like what they’re doing in Cebu. The purpose is to immediately isolate those that tested positive for further RT-PCR confirmatory tests.

Worse, we only have 28 licensed RT-PCR labs in the country and two as GeneXpert rapid testing facilities, the latter has a turn-around test results within 45 minutes as compared to RT-PCR which takes a minimum of 24 hours. Of course, we know this is not the case here as we have been getting results a minimum of 6 days to as long as a month as we continue to send swabs to Iloilo labs pending the accreditation of our own labs here.

I made mention of nine GeneXpert machines we have here in the province but for some reason, that proposal did not push through. So while we await the accreditation of the laboratories at the provincial hospital, the CLMMRH and the Red Cross, we can only hope and pray that the Iloilo testing centers will prioritize swabs from here too – that is if we are actually doing testing.

The 30,000 daily testing target by the end of the month will remain a dream after Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said that government has no plans to carry out mass testing and will leave that effort in the hands of private businesses.

Ain’t that great! From the start of this pandemic, it was the private sector that mobilized billions to purchase test kits, personal protective equipment, face masks, volunteering to convert their establishments into quarantine facilities and gave out food assistance including that chicken you received in your homes that were handed to you in the name of local officials but actually came from San Miguel Corporation.

Adding insult to injury, the private sector that keeps this economy afloat, the taxpayers that did not receive a single centavo from that Social Amelioration cash assistance, the same sector that continue to cry out as many of them were not approved by government agencies in the so-called stimulus package, are now being told – you have to fend for yourselves.

In an advisory issued last Monday, the Department of Labor and Employment said that employers, contractors and subcontractors are required to shoulder the cost of COVID-19 prevention and control measures which include testing, disinfection, protective gear for their workers and that none of these expenses will be passed on to their employees.

Labor Sec. Silvestre Bello III said that while they know that businesses have suffered so much, “for the sake of our economy we encourage them to dig deeper into their vast reserve of charity and benevolence so that their workers and the communities can continue to further weather this crisis that we are all facing and fighting together.”

In a separate advisory which you must relay to your returning relatives and friends from abroad, the IATF has now mandated that all arriving Filipinos and foreigners must undergo mandatory testing and quarantine at their own expense.

Upon arrival, these passengers will undergo RT-PCR tests which costs P3,500 then they will be taken to their hotels of choice, which again they will pay for, to await their tests which may be released within 3-5 days but which we also know may not happen considering the backlogs in test processing.

While awaiting results, one will continue to pay for their hotel and food costs until they turn out negative so they can be given certificates and go home. However, if results come back positive, they will be referred to hospitals for treatment or complete a longer quarantine period, of course, still at their own expense. If returning Filipinos have PhilHealth coverage, they can charge the testing but not the hotels.

Returning overseas workers meanwhile will be spared the cost as the OWWA will pay for all expenses incurred.

In short, despite the two months lockdown and the billions allocated to address the pandemic, we are back to step one and told – bahala ka sa buhay mo.*

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