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Philippines to test typhoon victims for COVID-19

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MANILA: With over 200,000 people cramped at evacuation centers across the island of Luzon after the onslaught of Typhoon Vamco, the government on Tuesday said it would start testing the evacuees to prevent a surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases.

“I assure you that the government policy to conduct [COVID-19] testing in evacuation centers is in place. And now, we will use antigen [tests] in all evacuation centers for faster results,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said during a press briefing.

Based on the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council’s (NDRRMC) data, a total of 727,738 families — in Cagayan Valley, Cordilleras Region and the National Capital Region (Metro Manila) — have been affected by Typhoon Vamco, with 73 dead, 24 injured and 19 missing as of Tuesday.

Nearly 71,000 families are currently seeking shelter at 2,205 evacuation centers.

Given the large number of Filipinos at evacuation centers, Roque said there was no guarantee that all evacuees would be screened for COVID-19.

“We will be conducting tests in evacuation centers, especially on those exhibiting symptoms,” he said.

Meanwhile, in an interview during a Philippine Navy event in Manila on Tuesday, NDRRMC Chairperson and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters that it would be a “challenge” to conduct COVID-19 tests at evacuation centers.

“Are we going to do it one by one? My suggestion is to watch out for those with symptoms, [such as] fever or cough,” he said, adding that Health Secretary Francisco Duque had warned of a possible COVID-19 outbreak earlier this week.

“It’s a good thing the people there are all wearing face masks, but the [three-meter] distancing protocol is no longer being followed,” Lorenzana said.

“But as of now there is no [COVID-19] outbreak in evacuation centers, and we are very happy,” he said, expressing hope that “no one among the evacuees was infected” with the virus.

The NDRRMC on Monday recommended that President Rodrigo Duterte place the entire Luzon island under a state of calamity to recover from the losses incurred by three typhoons, the latest being Vamco.

Roque said the recommendation had reached the president and while Duterte has yet to act on the proposal, he was confident that it would be done “soon.”

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