Priority workers are not required to undergo regular real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests, according to a circular issued by the Trade and Labor departments. — PHILIPPINE STAR/MICHAEL VARCAS

BUSINESSES are not required to regularly test all workers in government-identified priority industries for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), according to a new advisory from the Trade and Labor departments.

In advisory No. 20-01 dated Aug. 17, the agencies clarified that priority workers may undergo a real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test, revising an earlier circular that required testing.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez in a radio interview on Tuesday said guidelines require the use of the PCR test for workers who show symptoms of COVID-19. Asymptomatic employees need not undergo testing, he said.

“’Yung pagkasulat pala ng ‘shall,’ they are referring to ‘shall use the PCR test.’ Ibig sabihin, hindi ibang test, hindi rapid test,” he said. “Hindi mandatory ’yung i-te-test mo sila, PCR test, lalo na kung walang sintomas. Mandatory po ang test pagka-symptomatic.”

The new advisory said workers and employees in hospitality and tourism at El Nido, Boracay, Coron, Panglao, Siargao and other tourist zones identified by the Tourism department may be tested every four weeks.

Workers in manufacturing and public service providers in economic zones at “special concerns areas” may be tested every three months. Some areas are placed under “special concern lockdown” if they have a high number of COVID-19 cases.

Frontline workers and economic priority workers, or those who work in high-priority sectors that interact with the public and live in special concern areas, may also be tested every three months.

The Trade and Labor departments also said all testing facilities must use Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) benefits or any benefits provided by health maintenance organizations or private health insurance to reimburse the cost of the COVID-19 test.

Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECoP) President Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis, Jr. said in a radio interview on Tuesday private sector-led testing cannot be done because about 90% of employers run small businesses.

Pag ni-require mo kahit nag-GCQ (general community quarantine) tayo mas maraming mawawalan ng trabaho dahil hindi masusunod ’yan,” he said, adding that half of micro-businesses have closed. Requiring tests would force more to shut down, he added.

Micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises accounted for 99.5% of total businesses in the country, employing 5.7 million people or more than 60% of total employment, according to 2018 government data.

Under the additional government workplace guidelines, employees experiencing COVID-19 symptoms must undergo RT-PCR testing, and employers must inform the local government units at their workplace and the worker’s residence.

Employees working on site must be screened for symptoms. The government does not require or recommend rapid testing of asymptomatic employees returning to work.

The RT-PCR test checks for the presence of the virus in people, while rapid tests check for the presence of antibodies. — Jenina P. Ibañez