Several church leaders in the Philippines have joined calls to conduct mass testing for the new coronavirus in order to learn the true scale of the disease in the country and stop its spread.
Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, said the government should follow the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Since the start of the new coronavirus pandemic, the WHO has emphasized the crucial importance of testing.
“You can’t fight a virus if you don’t know where it is,” said the WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“Find, isolate, test and treat every case, to break the chains of transmission. Every case we find and treat limits the expansion of the disease,” he was quoted as saying.
Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos, said mass testing is crucial in containing the spread of the disease, as well as in healing those who are infected.
The bishop cited the example of Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, which he said “have been successful” in containing the spread of the disease “because of their fast, efficient, and effective testing systems.”
Bishop Alminaza urged the government to expedite the processing and approval of the 125,000 test kits donated by China and South Korea to test more people.
He said the government should also disclose the exact number of specimen-processing laboratories that are operational, their exact locations, and the daily capacity of each of these laboratories.
The bishop called on the government to disclose the standard length of time to test a person and for the test results to be released; how many private hospitals in the country have the capability to conduct laboratory analysis; and plans to expedite the testing process.
“We believe that the country has not reached the peak of this virus crisis, and we fear that the number of infected patients could swell in the next several weeks,” said the bishop.
In a media briefing on March 25, Department of Health spokeswoman Maria Rosario Vergeire, however, said mass testing is not being considered “because we lack capacity.”
“Even if we have testing kits, we do not have laboratories — we cannot do it. So we are completing the establishment of extension laboratories nationwide,” she said.
Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the social action arm of the Catholic bishops’ conference, called on the government to prioritize the testing of “vulnerable sectors.”
The priest said testing should not be given only to those who are in government positions and to influential people.
“It should be given to those who have less access to health services,” he said.
Earlier this week, reports of politicians and government officials who requested special treatment by getting themselves tested even without symptoms of the disease drew criticism.
Father Gariguez said the health department should “reject those people who use their powers and influence to abuse” or break protocols, “while many patients and health workers are suffering.”
Bishop Marigza, meanwhile, criticized what he described as the “militarist approach” of the government to combating the spread of the disease.
“The president puts the bulk of responsibility to most, if not all, ex-military personnel,” said the bishop.
On March 24, President Rodrigo Duterte announced that the government is set to implement a “national action plan” to combat the pandemic.
The Defense and Interior departments have been tasked to lead the implementation of the program “to reinforce the efforts of the Department of Health.”