Philippines down to 2,000 coronavirus testing kits as number of cases surge

Passengers wearing protective masks wait at a terminal of the Metro Rail Transit in Quezon, Philippines, on March 10, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANILA (BLOOMBERG) - The Philippines, with a population of more than 100 million, had only 2,000 coronavirus test kits available earlier this week as the number of infections jumped.

Its government once had 4,500 kits in stock, but the number dwindled to 2,000 by Monday (March 9) as the number of people who wanted to be diagnosed surged, Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that same day.

Confirmed cases in the South-east Asian nation increased to 24 on Monday night.

The limited number of testing kits is constraining the country's ability to test more people for the virus, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said this week, making people showing any symptoms a priority.

"Will we test 104 million Filipinos? That doesn't seem to be the correct approach," Dr Duque said on Tuesday.

His comments came after Senator Nancy Binay criticised health officials at a hearing on virus preparations for their seeming lack of readiness to deal with the outbreak.

"I don't want to panic but you're making me panic," she said.

On the brighter side, the nation's Food and Drug Administration on Monday accredited a testing kit developed by the University of the Philippines' National Institutes of Health.

There are also 2,000 other kits expected to arrive from the World Health Organisation this week, the health department said.

Elsewhere in the region, Singapore, which has developed its own coronavirus diagnostic kit, is prepared to ship them to other countries, according to a Facebook post from Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat. The city-state contributed 3,000 kits to Myanmar earlier this month.

In Malaysia, people without symptoms but want to be reassured they are OK can pay private companies to be tested at home, Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, the country's director-general of health, said on Monday.

IHH Healthcare's Pantai and Gleneagles hospitals and Qualitas Medical Group clinics are among those involved in the programme.

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