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In my previous column I emphasized how aggressive Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) testing and massive screening using rapid test kits are key to reopening our economy. Test, test, test; isolate and trace. With this approach, we can achieve greater visibility of the enemy and develop more effective strategies to combat the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19.
Buhay or kabuhayan? We must value life above all. But at this time, these two are equally important. Because without livelihood, how do our kababayans survive? Reopening the economy is of utmost urgency. Of course, we must also be cautious and prevent a second wave of infections. The solution to this is massive rapid testing.
By May 15, the nation will have undergone four resets (two months under quarantine), similar to what China has done. I am confident that we will not need another extension, especially as we launch Project ARK (Antibody Rapid test Kits), which is an initiative supported by the private sector to use both Antibody Rapid test Kits for mass screening. This effort aims to identify those who are sick, healthy, and who have recovered from the disease.
This massive rapid testing will be done in tandem with the RT-PCR testing of the government. Through Project ARK, we aim as well to boost the testing capacity of 7 hospitals to an additional 7,000 RT-PCR tests per day. Former DOH Sec. Janette Garin is helping Go Negosyo in leading this initiative.
Currently, the RT-PCR testing capacity of the country is around 18,000 per day. This provides us with enough data to safeguard the partial re-opening of the economy after the lockdown, which expires on May 15, 2020. But with massive rapid testing and by increasing RT-PCR testing to about 28,000 tests per day, more people can be screened, more companies and industries can deem it safe to reopen and operate, and more data can be gathered to help determine better, safer, and more sustainable approaches to reviving the economy.
By the first week of May, Project ARK aims to acquire one million rapid test kits through the help of different conglomerates and business chambers. The one million test kits from the private sector is on top of the two million test kits that President Duterte had earlier approved to procure immediately for public use.
Massive rapid testing is the first step to reclaiming economic freedom. Fortunately, the cost now of the rapid test kits is down to Php450, so we can expect more brands to drop prices, and increase the number of tests per day.
From here, we can then isolate the sick, and redirect them to either self-quarantine at home or seek treatment at the quarantine centers designated by Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr.
This is our goal. Together with the World Health Organization, Ayala, Unilab Metro Group, the Philippine Red Cross, and Go Negosyo, Project ARK aims to successfully reduce the numbers and make it safe and secure enough for the people to get back to work.
Test, test, test is the proven method! This we had learned from the mitigation models that were presented to the business sector. These same models were used by other countries such as South Korea and states like New York to successfully curb the spread of the disease.
We can stick to this plan of mass screening until the day a cure or vaccine is found. This is the best defense we have for now. And with public, private, and government support, we can be assured of a more positive future. I look forward to Sec. Duque and the health department in joining us in this initiative – to save both lives and livelihood.
Last Monday, we leveled up our program by giving away Php5,000 as additional capital to a lucky entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs only need to participate in our daily mentorship sessions broadcasted live on Facebook. We were happy to announce Sarah Pasabillo, owner of Shalfher Tailoring and Alteration in Las Piñas, as the first winner. She was one of my mentees, whom I had met at a previous summit.
I think she was destined to win the cash prize that night, knowing that she really needed the extra capital for her business. I remember when she shared her journey before with me: “Umattend ako noon ng Filipina Summit 2015 sa World Trade Center. Tandang-tanda ko pa noon yung sinabi ni Sir Joey na maniwala lang sa sarili dahil balang araw baka kami na yung uupo sa stage. Nainspire talaga ako sa kanya. Gusto kong ishare yung mga natutunan ko sa kanya sa aking community sa Las Piñas, para matulungan din ang kapwa kong entrepreneur. Itong Go Negosyo at ang mga program nila ay sobrang ganda, at malaki ang naiitulong sa mga maliliit na negosyo para umunlad. “
Mentor ME Online sessions, which aim to help entrepreneurs in this difficult time, are held Mondays to Fridays, every 11 am, 3 pm, and 6 pm. To date, we have carried out 60 sessions with thousands of participants tuning in daily. Despite the pandemic and ECQ, Go Negosyo is committed to serving MSMEs to the best of our capabilities.