De Lima seeks probe into current COVID-19 diagnostic testing amid new strains of virus

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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has urged the Congress to look into the current state of COVID-19 diagnostic testing in the country to assess, recalibrate and enhance the country’s testing abilities in light of the emergence of COVID-19 variants.

In filing Senate Resolution (SR) No. 612, De Lima said it is imperative to evaluate and assess our current diagnostic testing protocols because the new strains and variants of COVID-19 may affect the quality and reliability of COVID-19 testing results.

“There is a need to conduct a Senate inquiry into these matters to ensure that our testing capabilities and results are reliable and up to date in order to preserve the health and safety of the general public and ensure that the health protocols in place are still effective and responsive,” she said.

“It is better to be proactive than reactive given the uncertainty and imminent threats of these recent developments,” she added.

Dr. John Wong of the DOH’s technical advisory working group studying the coronavirus outbreak in the country warned that the UK COVID-19 variant has the dangerous potential of increasing the cases in the Philippines by 15-fold or around 300,000.

Shortly after the DOH acknowledged the risks of the UK COVID-19 variant, the world was struck with the news of more infectious variant, a new variant originating from South Africa and Malaysia, which prompted the health agency to monitor on top of trying to manage the continued increase of the COVID-19 cases in the country.

The first case of the UK COVID-19 variant has already been documented in the Philippines last Jan. 13 after samples from a Filipino who arrived from the United Arab Emirates on Jan. 7 yielded positive genome sequencing results.

With the evidence of the variant being more contagious mounting, De Lima said the State must gear up in order to be ahead of the situation, lest it becomes too late.

“It is vital that we heed the opinion of scientific and medical experts that warn us that SARS-CoV-2 virus can mutate over time, resulting in genetic variation in the population of circulating viral strains,” she said.

“In recognizing this inevitable event, the State must be ready in combatting new strains that are already here and could arise in the future to avoid further exacerbating our medical frontliners who have been making the ultimate sacrifice in stemming the spread of the virus,” she added.

While the rollout of the much-anticipated vaccine program is on the way, De Lima stressed that it should not cause a slackened approach to other factors that help mitigate the spread of the virus such as testing.

“While investigations and studies are ongoing to clarify the extent of these possible implications, the State must continue to ensure that our testing capabilities are regularly assessed and recalibrated to respond to the times,” she said.

“It is also prudent to inform the public, through a Senate inquiry, how the DOH and Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) is preparing our health system in the eventuality that new and potentially more infectious variants of COVID-19 are detected in the country and further transmission occurs,” she added. (30)

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