Conglomerates and major business organizations have expressed support for a private sector-led initiative to conduct mass testing for the new coronavirus at the community level, according to businessman Joey Concepcion, the presidential adviser for entrepreneurship.

Dubbed “Project ARK (antibody rapid test kits),” the data-driven initiative is anchored on the combined efforts of the government and businesses, and will launch a protocol to help identify persons with antibodies against the coronavirus, as well as possible convalescent plasma donors.

“How do we operate in a war-like environment? We must create that structure of defense, which can be done with selective quarantine. However, this structure will be useless if we don’t create visibility. By doing aggressive PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing and massive screening using rapid test kits, we can gain greater visibility,” Concepcion said in a statement on Thursday.

Added tool

Project ARK plans to use the antibody rapid test kit as an added diagnostic tool to PCR testing, which is considered the “gold standard” by the Department of Health. The test can detect the presence of immunoglobulin G (IgG) and immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibodies, showing who have the virus, who never had it, and who have the antibodies after recovering from the disease. It will be part of the test protocol that combines the use of ARKs and PCR testing for massive screening.

Through the initiative, massive screening will be conducted on company employees soon, but business establishments may also extend the screening to residents of nearby barangays on a voluntary basis.

Data generated by the tests can later guide companies in developing effective internal strategies and help them identify those who are fit to return to work.

Restoring public confidence

With massive rapid testing, public confidence can also be restored, Concepcion said.

The presidential adviser also recommended the setting up of a rapid-PCR testing system at the airport where inbound travelers (returning Filipino migrant workers and seafarers, business visitors, etc.) would be subject to testing upon arrival. This will speed up the turnaround time for results and can quickly determine if a person is infected or not.

Gradual reopening of malls

Concepcion pushed for an immediate shift to selective quarantine once the Luzon lockdown is lifted and for the resumption of manufacturing operations and construction activities. This would ensure the continued production of high-demand supplies and allow more people to go back to work, he said.

Mass gatherings should remain limited, Concepcion said.

By the first week of May, shopping malls may start reopening gradually, but all employees and shoppers will not be allowed to enter without face masks or face shields, he added.

Public transportation in Metro Manila and the provinces may resume, but only on a limited scale to accommodate essential workers. Government-run mass transport systems, such as the MRT and LRT, may also resume operations.

“We are in a modern-day war, and all our sacrifices and efforts—by the public, the private sector, the government—display our deep love for country,’’ Concepcion said. “This is ‘bayanihan’ in action. And together, I hope we all win and heal as one.”


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