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Gov’t sets price cap on coronavirus swab tests

THE GOVERNMENT has issued an order setting a price ceiling on coronavirus swab tests to balance equity and consumers’ choice.

Private laboratories may charge P4,500 to P5,000, while their state counterparts must have a flat rate of P3,800, Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III told an online news briefing on Wednesday.

The Department of Health (DoH) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) signed the joint order, he said.

“With this joint administrative order, the government seeks to strike a balance on equity access and consumers’ choice,” Mr. Duque said.

“In determining the price range, we strive to ensure that they are just, equitable and sensitive to all stakeholders,” he added.

The price cap, which will cover real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction or RT-PCR tests, will take effect as soon as the order is published in newspapers.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte early this month issued Executive Order 118 ordering the agencies to enforce the price ceiling.

Mr. Duque said the ceiling would address disparate testing prices in laboratories. The price range will be monitored, he added.

Violators’ license to operate as a COVID-19 laboratory would be suspended for 15 days and will be fined P20,000 for the first violation.

A 30-day suspension and a P30,000 fine will be imposed on the second offense. The license to operate will be revoked on the third offense.

DoH reported 1,202 coronavirus infections on Wednesday, bringing the total to 422,915.

The death toll rose by 31 to 8,215, while recoveries increased by 183 to 386,955, it said in a bulletin.

There were 27,745 active cases, 83.7% of which were mild, 8.2% did not show symptoms, 5.1% were critical, 2.7% were severe and 0.27 were moderate.

Davao City reported the highest number of new cases at 137, followed by Quezon City at 68, Batangas at 59, Laguna at 54 and Cavite at 47.

The DoH said nine duplicates had been removed from the tally, while 12 cases tagged as recovered were reclassified as deaths. One case reported as death was reclassified as recovered.

Eight laboratories failed to submit their data on Nov. 24, the agency said.

The coronavirus has sickened about 60.2 million and killed 1.4 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO).  About 41.6 million people have recovered, it said.

Meanwhile, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said the clinical trial for Japanese anti-flu drug Avigan as treatment for the coronavirus started on Nov. 20, with eight participants.

Three patients were enrolled at the Philippine General Hospital, three at Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and two at Quirino Memorial Medical Center, she told an online news briefing. Sta. Ana Hospital had yet to recruit participants.

Ms. Vergeire said the sample size was expanded to 144 from 96 and the criteria for participants were eased.

She said nonsevere COVID-19 patients with or without pneumonia and those not on high flow oxygen support could participate in the trials.

“Hopefully in the coming days or weeks, we can reach the number of samples that we need to complete this trial,” she said.

Japan in April said it would send the drug manufactured by Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Co., Ltd. to 38 countries, including the Philippines after clinical trials.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives health committee approved a bill that seeks to create a Health Procurement and Stockpiling Bureau under the Health department.

Under House Bill 6995, the bureau must stockpile, conserve and facilitate the release of adequate amounts of potentially life-saving drugs, vaccines and devices to “swiftly confront the devastating consequences of public health emergencies.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need to preposition critical and strategic pharmaceuticals and medical devices as well as the supply of raw materials,” Quezon Rep. Angelina Helen Tan said in a statement. “The country needs to be proactive in its response to public health emergencies.”

The presidential palace this month said President Rodrigo R. Duterte would allow the emergency use of coronavirus vaccines, which would allow local use of a vaccine approved in other countries after 21 days, shorter than the usual six months required for verification.

Mr. Duterte had also approved advanced orders for COVID-19 vaccines to ensure there is supply for the Philippines, vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr.  said earlier.

He said the FDA was fast-tracking the approval process for at least three drug makers that seek to hold clinical trials here.

Mr. Duterte last month said the government had funds to buy coronavirus vaccines, but it needs more so the entire population of more than 100 million could be inoculated. 

He said he would look for more funds so all Filipinos could be vaccinated. The President said he was okay with vaccines developed either by Russia or China.

About five drug makers intend to conduct coronavirus clinical trials in the Philippines, according to the local Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

They include China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd., Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology and Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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