WITH the demand for tests for Covid-19 going up due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara on Friday said there was sufficient funding under the 2022 national budget to cover for the requirements of the public, particularly those who cannot afford to pay for services provided by private labs.
Angara, who heads the Committee on Finance, said that Covid-19 tests, if done at the government-operated laboratories, should be free of charge to the public.
He said that there is P17.85 billion under the 2022 national budget for “Covid-19 Laboratory Network Commodities,” which can be tapped for the provision of free tests.
This consists of P7.92 billion under the budget of the Department of Health (DoH) and another P9.92 billion under the unprogrammed appropriations.
“The Senate pushed for the allocation of bigger amounts for Covid testing — knowing fully well that we are still in a pandemic and the new, faster-spreading variants continue to emerge,” Angara said.
Considering that a significant number of people infected with Omicron are either asymptomatic or are experiencing mere coughs or colds, Angara said the likelihood of the same people spreading the virus to more people was very high, especially if they do not know they are positive.
Angara called on the DoH to immediately download the funds to the government laboratories so that more free tests could be provided to those who require them.
For those who opt to do their tests with privately operated laboratories, Angara said these could be subsidized by the government through the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).
The senator also urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to act swiftly on the pending applications for special certifications for self-administered home testing kits so that more products will be made available to the public and at lower prices.
“The bottom line is that the more tests we conduct, the more effective our efforts will be in preventing the spread of Covid. We reiterate our appeal for people to get vaccinated if they haven’t done so; to get their booster shots; wear your face masks; and stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary to go out,” Angara said.
With regard to contact tracing, Angara clarified that there is P250 million lodged in the budget of the Department of the Interior and Local Government for the hiring of contact tracers.
Another P1 billion was placed under the unprogrammed appropriations for the same purpose.