PASIG CITY — In a bid to address the continued surge in COVID-19 cases after placing the National Capital Region (NCR), Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal or the NCR Plus under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), the government is ramping up the country’s testing capacity as well as increasing its vaccine allocation for areas covered by the most stringent quarantine classification.

In an online press briefing on Tuesday, March 30, National Task Force (NTF) against COVID 19 Deputy Chief Implementer and Testing Czar Secretary Vivencio Dizon bared the government’s plan to intensify the country’s COVID-19 testing efforts, particularly in places under ECQ.

Dizon said that an additional 30,000 antigen tests will be conducted per day in the NCR Plus bubble in the next two weeks.

According to the Testing Czar, 500,000 antigen test kits will be procured by the Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) and will be distributed to various hospitals and local government units within the NCR Plus.

Dizon said that while the government is capable of carrying out an average of more than 50,000 per day, the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF EID) decided to further ramp up testing in communities that are experiencing spikes in cases.

Focus on NCR Plus Bubble

“Limitado po ito sa NCR Plus areas dahil ang antigen test ay ginagamit lamang sa mga area na mataas ang prevalence ng COVID-19 at ‘yun po ay ang NCR, Cavite, Bulacan, Laguna, at Rizal,” said Dizon.

The antigen tests, he said, will be used to test hospital patients and healthcare workers, as well as individuals in densely populated barangays.

The OCD is required to purchase antigen test kits that have been validated by the World Health Organization Emergency Use Listing or the Philippines’ Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.

Dizon reported that only three brands have met the requirements of these criteria. They include Panbio Rapid Ag Test, SD Biosensor Standard Q, and Lansion Biotech Dry Flourenscence.

Meanwhile, NTF Chief Implementer and Vaccine Czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. reported that the government’s vaccine rollout is doing “good” despite the limited supply, as the nation’s vaccination rate has increased from 35,000 during the first week of March to 271,459 in the fourth week of this month.

“Ibig sabihin, ‘yung capacity natin to inoculate will go on exponentially with the availability of more vaccines in different LGUs,” said Galvez.

Likewise, the Vaccine Czar revealed the Task Force’s plan to focus the deployment of Sinovac vaccines in the NCR Plus bubble.

He said that out of the 1.4 million Sinovac doses, 800,000 will be deployed in the ECQ areas.

The Philippines received its first procured vaccines on March 29 with the arrival of one million doses of Sinovac vaccines.

The country also received 400,000 doses of donated vaccines from Chinese government last week.

The same deployment plan will be followed by the private sector for the 2.6 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines it procured. The shipment is expected to arrive by May.

According to Galvez, the NTF has held discussions with the group of Go Negosyo Founder Joey Concepcion and it was decided that the initial tranche the companies will receive will be used to inoculate their employees in the NCR Plus bubble.

With regards to the registration of vaccinees, Galvez stressed that a PhilHealth ID is not a requirement for an individual to get the jab.

He said that any identification card number, whether government or company-issued, will suffice to validate a resident’s identity when registering for vaccination.

Galvez said people may pre-register for the immunization program through their respective LGUs.

Facilitating vaccine procurement of private sector

Galvez clarified the directive of President Rodrigo Duterte to allow private firms to procure vaccines “at will” to inoculate their employees who are considered as economic frontliners.

He pointed out that under RA 11525 or the COVID 19 Vaccination Program Act, private entities can procure their own vaccine supplies through a tripartite agreement with the national government and their chosen manufacturer that has been granted an Emergency Use Authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.

These purchases shall be exempt from taxes and custom duties.

“Ang direktiba ng ating Pangulo ay pabilisin ang proseso. Dapat walang delay para walang ma-perceive na kinokontrol natin ang procurement,” he said.

Galvez also noted that the Bureau of Customs will give private sector-procured vaccines a pre-clearance to avoid delays in transporting them to cold storage facilities.

The government will also assume all liabilities for any adverse effect or reactions an individual may experience following immunization using the vaccines procured by the private sector and LGUs.

Under the first tripartite agreement spearheaded by Concepcion, the private sector was able to secure six million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, while the group led by Enrique Razon procured seven million doses of Moderna vaccines.

Other private entities are now in the process of procuring vaccines from other manufacturers such as Novavax, Sinovac, Sputnik V, and Covaxin to immunize their personnel and family members. ###