THE Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) said the government must help the private sector cover the costs of testing for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which it said was unaffordable for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSME).

PCCI President Benedicto V. Yujuico said in an online meeting with the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines Tuesday that only large corporations can afford employee testing.

“MSMEs (can) hardly afford to keep their employees, much less do these tests which are very, very costly… Government has to come in and this is the province and responsibility of the Department of Health.”

The President’s Spokesman Herminio L. Roque said Monday that the private sector should take the lead on mass testing.

The government does not require companies to test employees before they return to work. Health department guidelines recommend that companies screen employees, using Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests for workers with symptoms or suspected to have COVID-19. The guidelines allow asymptomatic employees to return to work.

“The cost of testing not covered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) shall be borne by the employer. But this also means the employer can reimburse the cost from PhilHealth up to the amount allowed and under such conditions sanctioned by PhilHealth,” the Department of Trade and Industry said Monday.

Marikina Rep. and Co-chair of the House Economic Stimulus Cluster Stella Luz A. Quimbo said in the same online meeting that businesses need masks, disinfectants, and other protective measures.

“Government needs to step in and try to ease that burden. It’s really going to now be a burden that’s going to be shared by both the private sector and the government… hindi pa kasama dyan ang (we’ve not yet counting) mass testing. A rapid test, with a false-negative rate of 15%, needs to be repeated… you can only just imagine kung gaano kalaki talaga (how large the) cost of producing a service,” she said.

Ms. Quimbo said the P20 billion for COVID-19 testing in the proposed Philippine Economic Stimulus Act (PESA) is a rough computation to cover 20 million workers in metropolitan areas.

“Is it enough? Maybe not, but then again the private sector and government must co-share. So this is really intended as assistance for businesses, coursed through the LGUs (local government units),” she said.

Mr. Yujuico said measures will be needed to help the recovery of over a million small businesses.

“Perhaps in the stimulus we are talking about the realignment of the support that Congress can give to business,” he said, citing programs offered by the Small Business Corp., the Philippine Guarantee Corp. and financial institutions. Tulungan niyo ’yung SMEs. Kailangan ng tulong (Help the SMEs because they need help).” — Jenina P. Ibañez