‘VIPs’ vs commoners: How fast do they get their COVID-19 test results?

March 26, 2020 - 8:04 PM
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Person in laboratory
Stock photo of a personnel in a laboratory. (Photo from user thisisengineering via Unsplash)

While politicians and their kin get their results of COVID-19 infection in a timely manner, ordinary Filipinos including frontliners were reported to have passed away without getting confirmation on their statuses.

Sen. Sonny Angara on Thursday afternoon announced that he tested positive for the virus after undergoing a swab test on March 16, ten days before his result was released.

“I have been feeling some symptoms like mild fever, cough, headaches and general weakness,” he said in a statement.

Angara claimed that he has “not been in contact with the public” ever since he took the test. He also failed to physically attend the special session of the Congress which deliberated the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” signed into law by the president last Tuesday.

He is the third senator to have contracted the virus after Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who has exposed frontliners in Makati Medical City and S&R Membership Shopping.

A staff of Sen. Pia Cayetano‘s office was also revealed to have contracted the virus but her “infection was traced to a person close to her family.”

Meanwhile, the wife of former senator Bongbong Marcos also shared that she and their entire household tested “negative” for COVID-19.

“Yesterday, we had ourselves and our entire staff tested for COVID-19. Fortunately, we all tested NEGATIVE,” lawyer Liza Araneta-Marcos said in a statement.

Philstar.com reported that it only took Marcos and their staff a day to receive the results, although Marcos himself said that he is still waiting for his own.

Araneta-Marcos denied online rumors that her husband was “intubated” and had to be transferred to Singapore through a private plane of Ilocos politician Chavit Singson. 

Marcos, in a separate statement, said that he was “feeling a little under the weather” so he decided to get himself tested. He added that he is now feeling “much better” and is “getting stronger by the day.”

The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, the country’s main COVID-19 testing center and research arm of the health department, said that results could be available by 48 hours but it could take longer than that if the samples have to be recollected in case it fails to read as an “acceptable specimen.”

Other politicians have previously availed of the opportunity to be tested despite being asymptomatic. These include President Rodrigo Duterte and his family, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and some of his staff, Sens. Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, Bong Revilla Jr., Bong GoPing Lacson and Senate President Tito Sotto, among others.

RELATED: A closer look at DOH’s triage system and why politicians, officials are getting tested for COVID-19

The problem with privilege 

As reports of public officials getting tested and obtaining the results in a timely manner surface, Filipinos couldn’t help but criticized how they have reportedly used their positions to be prioritized over those with actual symptoms or are considered “persons under investigation.”

“More VIPs are getting tested for COVID-19 immediately, while ordinary citizens will just have to wait for their turn,” a Twitter user lamented.

“Politicians should stop saying when they were tested for Covid-19 and when the got the result. Masyadong nahahalata ng mga tao na pa-VIP sila,” wrote another Filipino.

“Three senators and other politicians tested positive for COVID-19. They got tested early and now, have the chance to recover. Meanwhile, patients from Mindanao and other parts of the country died waiting for their test results, far from their families because of isolation,” said an online user.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III previously admitted that some public officials have directly asked RITM to run tests on them despite the limited number of test kits and numerous PUIs in critical condition.

The DOH last Monday said that “there is no policy for VIP treatment and that all specimens are being processed on a first-in, first-out basis.”

It, however, added that testing is “with courtesy accorded to officials holding positions of national security and public health.”

Early this week, it was reported that at least six patients lost their lives before they were determined positive of the infection. Most of them were already past their 60s.

Others’ results were obtained the same day they had succumbed to the virus.

Nine doctors have also lost their lives due to COVID-19, who were mostly considered top doctors in their own communities and field of specialization.

In a separate interview, Duque suggested that those who experience COVID-19 symptoms should assume that they already have the virus and manage it accordingly.

“Okay naman ‘yung early detection pero unang-una, hindi naman gamot itong testing na ito. Ika nga kung alam mo na ‘yung sintomas, i-manage mo na as COVID-19,” Duque said in an interview with GMA News’ Dobol B sa News TV.

“Dapat kung alam mo na na lahat ng indikasyon ay nandoon nagtuturo o nagsa-suggest na ito ay malamang COVID, bakit ka pa maghihintay ng test? Gawin mo na. You manage it already. Kalokohan ‘yung sasabihin natin ‘Wala pa ‘yung test eh.’ Anong wala pa ‘yung test? Gawin mo na. You assume, that’s the way to do it,” he added.

The country only conducts around 200 COVID-19 tests daily.

A total of 2,147 tests has been performed since January this year.