By Vann Marlo M. Villegas and
Gillian M. Cortez, Reporters
THE Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) test kits developed by local scientists to help speed up diagnosis amid rising cases in the Philippines.
In a statement, the agency said it had issued a certificate of exemption for the detection kit made by scientists from the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health.
The Department of Health (DoH) yesterday reported nine new cases, bringing the total to 33 infections.
FDA said the local kits would be used for field testing “coupled with gene sequencing at the Philippine Genome Center.”
FDA Director General Rolando Enrique D. Domingo said the increasing number of confirmed cases requires “immediate diagnosis and monitoring.”
“This will provide our laboratories with technological reinforcement to accommodate the growing number of patients to be tested and aid in early screening of positive cases,” he said in the statement. “This will provide greater access to a less costly diagnostic procedure.”
On Monday night, President Rodrigo R. Duterte suspended classes at all levels in Metro Manila from Mach 20 to 14 after 18 cases were confirmed in the past 24 hours.
The nine new cases, along with the four that Mr. Duterte announced on Monday, had been admitted at Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Sanitarium, Cardinal Santos Medical Center, San Lazaro Hospital, St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City, New Clark City quarantine facility and Medical City, according to DoH.
Their ages ranged from 28 to 82. Four patients were in stable condition and seven were for verification. The remaining two Filipinos from a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship in Yokohama were not showing symptoms.
DoH was tracing people who might have had contact with the patients, it said.
Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told a news briefing they were conducting gene sequencing on the samples to determine if there had been a “community transmission.”
She also said they had sought more budget from lawmakers to increase the capacity of various hospitals and laboratories, and strengthen surveillance.
The House of Representatives committee on appropriations approved an additional budget of P1.65 billion for DoH to help it fight the disease.
“Practice personal preventive measures such as proper hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and social distancing,” Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said in a statement. “We also advise everyone to avoid visiting public places and/or attending mass gatherings at this critical time.”
DoH raised the country’s alert level to Code Red sublevel 1 on Saturday as health authorities “prepare for a possible increase in suspected and confirmed cases.”
Meanwhile, the presidential palace ruled out a lockdown in Metro Manila, saying the situation did not call for it.
“It’s not the time yet,” presidential spokesman Salvador S. Panelo said at a news briefing. “He hopes and prays that it will not come to a situation where we will be forced to lock down,” he added, referring to President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
Meanwhile, the Cavite local government reported its first COVID-19 case. The patient, who is from Imus, is a returning seaman who had passed through the Narita Airport in Japan, Cavite Governor Juanito Victor C. Remulla said in a social media post.
“He is currently confined at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine,” he said. It was not clear whether the patient was part of additional cases announced by DoH yesterday.
Senators on Monday chided health officials for failing to buy adequate testing kits for the novel coronavirus that has killed almost 3,900 people and sickened about 111,000 more, mostly in China.
The agency only has 2,000 kits and expects to receive 4,500 more from the World Health Organization, Alethea De Guzman, a DoH medical specialist, told a Senate hearing on Monday.
The department is reviewing a decision it made earlier to limit the use of test kits to travelers from countries with cases of COVID-19, she said.
During the hearing, Senator Maria Lourdes Nancy S. Binay criticized the DoH officials for their slow public announcement of new coronavirus cases. She said netizens on social media had been ahead in circulating reports about a new infection at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig. — with Charmaine A. Tadalan