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Concepcion: Millions should be tested to win war vs virus

MANILA – Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion stressed the importance of mass testing as a way to keep the health situation under control and accelerate economic recovery during the Balik Kabuhayan webinar held on Tuesday with health experts, government officials and businessmen. 

“Test, test, test, and isolate is the only way to save the jobs and livelihoods of our Filipino people. To date, Project ARK has tested 107,782 individuals, with private companies carrying out 66,617 tests and LGU partners finishing 41,665 tests. We have to test millions of people. That’s the only way to create visibility. The revelation here is early on, there was a debate to test only symptomatic and not asymptomatic. The results from the private sector show that if we did not test the asymptomatic, then this could have escalated to a worse situation,” Concepcion said. 

“There was a debate to test only symptomatic and not asymptomatic using rapid test kits since RT-PCR capacity was not enough. But clearly, the initial data from the first batch of results from the private sector and LGUs showed that 94.7% of the asymptomatic individuals tested were negative, 2.2% were IgG positive, 0.1% were IgM positive and the other 1.4% tested IgG/IgM positive. This only proves that regular testing is a must,” he added.

“As we open more of our economy, we need to create more visibility and come up with a defense strategy to co-exist with the virus. We have to maintain our GCQ status and eventually move to MGCQ,” Concepcion shared.

Rep. Joey Salceda, one of the panelists, shared key takeaways on how to defeat the disease and stated that confidence is everything, “Focus on secular, keep the powder dry versus opportunity for quick recovery, build structural reforms, and seize low-lying fruits.”

“Project ARK’s mission is to make testing affordable, available, and accessible. Ideally from Php 1,500- Php 2,000 we aim to further reduce the cost of testing to 350 to 375 by the end of July via Pooled testing. Pooled PCR testing allows us to balance health and economy. It will optimize the availability of test kits, reduce the workload on laboratory staff,” ARK PCR private sector chief implementor Janette Garin said.

“When a workplace becomes infected or exposed, operations have to be suspended. This means loss of income, difficult life, small businesses will close down. When health meets the economy, when testing fills the gap in making social distancing, hygiene practices, and other new normal behaviors more effective, we can co-exist with COVID,” she added.

Philippine-American Academy of Science and Engineering (PAASE) President Gisela Concepción shared bulletin points anchored on three major topics: containment and mitigation; triage and treatment; and mass testing and tracking, as a way to guide businesses, specifically MSMEs. 

Dr. Raymund Lo, head of Philippine Children’s Medical Center COVID-19 Testing, shared progress on an ongoing study to significantly increase the country’s testing capacity that could screen even asymptomatic individuals. He explained they are currently in the first phase of the study which will determine which sample pool of 5, 10, 20 is sensitive enough. 

“As soon as the results are available we can roll out to other laboratories to dramatically increase capacity,” he said. “It can definitely be a game-changer because it will lower costs, speed in reporting, and ability to test possibly ten times or more the current capacity of our labs.” 

Filinvest Development Corp. CEO Josephine Gotianun-Yap pledged support for the pooled testing study and shared how the company is protecting its employees, customers, business partners, and community in addition to helping government efforts to fight the virus.  

“When Project ARK started in April 2020, we had virtually none RT-PCR testing. 2,000 a day is what we have. Many people would take their test and they would die before they got their result. That is why the rapid antibody testing was the practical thing to do and we just made sure that they were reliable as possible,” ARK Medical Team Lead Dra. Minguita Padilla emphasized. “We still don’t have all the data but we will report it as soon as possible because as Gisela said, this is very important data and we did find a lot of infectious IgMs in the community.”

Padilla also stressed that lockdown, for now, is not necessary as it will do more harm, “The consequence of the lockdown can be even more serious than the consequence of COVID. Because what we saw was that many people are dying from non-COVID diseases. The only way to do this is we go about our lives, respect the virus, be mindful of the virus and we follow the three steps: wash your hands with soap and water, keep your distance, and wear your masks, and keep praying.”

Moderated by broadcast journalist Karen Davila, the webinar explored effective defense strategies against the virus and touched on the collaboration of public and business sectors in the game-changing mission of making testing affordable and accessible through pooled testing. 

The webinar also looked at the overall health management amidst the pandemic and the core elements necessary to succeed such as health safety measures, testing, data mapping, tracing, and health infrastructure. It also notified key stakeholders on the progress of the different on-going Project ARK initiatives: ARK Rapid Testing, RT-PCR Testing, and Pooled Testing. Among the thousands of viewers on Facebook and the hundreds of attendees in Zoom were ARK Project Lead Josephine Romero, DOST Sec. Fortunato de la Peña, Singapore Ambassador Gerard Ho, members of the diplomatic corps, business leaders, private companies, business organizations/chambers, and representatives from ARK PCR partner companies and hospitals. PR

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