There are proposals circulating that the Covid-19 rapid testing be made as a mandatory requirement for return to work clearance of our workers. But while the proposal has good intentions, it somehow misses the real objective of why we are opting for Covid-19 testing in the first place.
There are two kinds of Covid-19 tests currently being done: the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) which is a viral test that examines if one has a current infection, and the rapid anti-body test which could tell if one had a previous infection.
Since the viral test is expensive and may take some time to get the results, the rapid antibody testing is being proposed. Without such test, proponents say, workers may not come back to work. Worse, both the government and the employers, particularly those operating micro, small and medium enterprises, are not willing to shoulder the testing cost. In effect, the clear implication is that the workers should shoulder the cost and that would be around PhP2,000 to PhP3,000 per test.
But even assuming that there are those who are willing to shoulder the cost, rapid testing only has 40% accuracy and with six in every ten producing “false negative” and “false positive” results. This being so, one may test negative but in reality he/she may be sick or is a coronavirus carrier, or may not be sick but was said to be positive.
Because of the inaccuracy of the rapid test, it will just create psychological pressure not only for those with false positive results but also for the people who are aware of the result. Social discrimination is likely to occur.
On the other hand, those with false negative results may be complacent and could just be roaming around when they are actually asymptomatic Covid-19 carriers. In this case, the purpose of the testing is defeated, and time and resources wasted.
Second, assuming that the test now is PCR and the result of the worker who took the test for the sake of producing a work clearance was negative. So he was allowed to work and did the same routine — He navigated the traffic and went to work, returned home in the evening, and bonded with his housemates one of whom is a Covid-19 asymptomatic carrier. The next day he went to work again navigating the traffic but this time generously sharing the virus along the way and in the workplace. But since he’s got a work clearance, can we say that the original intent of the proposed mandatory testing as a requirement for work clearance was achieved?
The point here is, if testing will be selective, the real intent of identifying and isolating the carriers of the virus and the virus first and foremost will just be that — an intent. Note that workers are not the only ones susceptible to the virus. It also infects other household and community members old or young, male or female. The proposal therefore is mass testing and with the use of PCR. Otherwise, all the efforts, time and resources will just be flushed down the drain.