Multimedia Reporter

In strategizing around COVID-19, business often arrive at a question of life vs. livelihood, health vs. the economy. When we open the economy, what are the repercussions on health? What role then does the private sector play in ensuring our nation’s well-being through the current crisis?

These are the questions that Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion tackled in an April 23 video conference, where he and his group publicly introduced Project ARK, a private sector-led initiative that aims to make massive testing possible through the use of Antibody Rapid test Kits.

A two-pronged approach

Project ARK  is anchored on the combined efforts of the government and businesses to make massive testing possible at the community level.

“This isn’t a binary, zero-sum game. This is about how long we can manage the virus until a vaccine is available,” said George Royeca, Chief Transport Advocate of Angkas. “We’re doing a two-pronged approach at Project ARK. Companies that have partnered with us will commit to spend out-of-pocket for the regular testing of their own employees. They will also be encouraged to adopt a barangay and support the testing efforts of the said barangay. It’s important to include residential areas in our efforts because it’s where workers live.”

The project will also launch a data-driven initiative and testing protocol that will help identify persons with antibodies against the virus and possible convalescent plasma donors. Pilot tests have been done in various barangays in Metro Manila as partner companies have donated test kits to different hospitals following the Department of Health protocol.

Data gathered from all the testing activities will be used to map Covid-19 exposure levels in the capital too. This will then enable authorities to determine which barangays need to undergo a targeted quarantine, and which barangays can already be allowed to gradually resume economic operations.

Mass testing as a form of prevention

Mass testing is one of many response systems being discussed by public health experts—with some officials skeptical of its practical effectivity. Among them, Dr. Edsel Salvana, director of the National Institutes of Health, who said mass testing would be a waste of money.

Mr. Concepcion begs to differ, framing it as simply part of the costs of doing business in today’s environment.

“We disagree that massive rapid testing of our employees is a waste of resources,” he said. “It is, in fact, a way of protecting our businesses and the lives of our people. If the business owner does not know who among his employees are infected, that is a far greater risk. This might even result in more damages and might place our factories and plants under future lockdown. The private sector would rather spend more money to ensure the safety and security of our people, rather than risk the health and future of the company.”

Mr. Concepcion explained that mass testing is a form of prevention, one that most mitigation models that were presented to the business sector proved to be key to restarting the economy.

“We just can’t allow things to fall apart,” he said. “This is not a time for finger-pointing; we must take immediate action and seek the cooperation of all parties concerned.”

Companies interested to participate in Project ARK may email for further information.