By Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporter

THE Philippines now has 15 testing centers for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), allowing it to test 3,000 samples daily, according to a government task force against the pandemic.

“We’re now in a better position to reach our target of 3,000 tests per day, then eventually 8,000 to 10,000 tests per day,” Cabinet Secretary and task force Spokesman Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said at a news briefing on Monday.

The Department of Health yesterday reported new 284 COVID-19 infections, bringing the total to 4,932. Eighteen more patients died, raising the death toll to 315. It said in a bulletin. Forty-five more patients have gotten well, bringing the total of those who have recovered to 242, it added.

The Health department would start expanded COVID-19 tests on April 14, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told a separate news briefing.

The agency would coordinate with the University of the Philippines National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in Diliman, Quezon City for the deployment of 300 volunteer medical technologists, molecular biologists, laboratory technicians and researchers to various laboratories.

“We want to ensure that there are enough health workers at each facility,” Ms. Vergeire said, adding that 1,429 volunteers had finished an online biosafety course organized by UP Manila.

They are also coordinating with the Department of Science and Technology for borrowed supplies and equipment.

Ms. Vergeire noted that aside from the 15 testing laboratories, 28 institutions were undergoing certification and 37 have expressed a desire to become testing laboratories.

She said the agency would prioritize the first and second stages of the certification process for laboratories in the Visayas and Mindanao.

DoH was also looking at alternative approaches that will deliver fast and accurate results to detect the disease, she said.

The agency was awaiting delivery of 3,000 GeneXpert cartridges developed by Cepheid and approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for COVID-19 tests.

GeneXpert, which is used in diagnosing tuberculosis, yields faster results than the reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction technique used for COVID-19, Ms. Vergeire said.

Mr. Nograles said the testing centers now include St. Luke’s Quezon City and Bonifacio Global City, V. Luna Hospital in Quezon City, Medical City in Pasig, the Makati Medical Center and the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory.

He said 33,814 individuals have been tested for the virus.

Meanwhile, the city of Manila has started localized mass testing and could now test more than 1,000 virus samples a week, it said in a statement.

Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso allowed localized target mass testing to be led by the city’s Health department and six district hospitals.

Seven health facilities in the nation’s capital can conduct 232 swab tests daily, or 1,624 a week, it said.

The swab tests will be processed by the Department of Health’s Research Institute for Tropical medicine or the University of the Philippines Philippine General Hospital.

UP-PGH Director Gerardo D. Legaspi has committed to release results in two to three days, according to the statement.