Endangerment through forgery
With COVID cases still rising in several areas outside Metro Manila, and the vaccine rollout hitting a snag, coronavirus transmission can be curbed only through strict adherence to health protocols. The so-called three T’s – tracing, testing and treatment – need to be stringently maintained.
Obviously, this goal is seriously undermined when people fake the results of reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction swab tests. The forgery of RT-PCR test results used to be done mainly by people seeking employment or a return to their jobs.
With the gradual reopening of various economic sectors, however, faking RT-PCR test results has also been resorted to even by those who want to enjoy tourism. This was the case with six visitors to Boracay, three of whom tested positive for COVID following their arrest in a hotel on the resort island. This week the Department of Tourism filed criminal charges against the six, who are from Metro Manila, for falsification of public documents.
Last December, the Aklan police also filed criminal charges against five Boracay visitors, for falsification of public documents as well as violation of Republic Act No. 11332, the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.
Since Boracay began accepting visitors from areas outside Western Visayas on Oct. 1 last year, about 100 tourists have been apprehended for faking swab test results. Malay town, which has jurisdiction over Boracay, is preparing a resolution declaring the 100 as persona non grata.
Such reports have apparently not provided sufficient deterrence. Last week eight more people with fake swab test results were arrested in three separate resorts in Boracay. Unless people see violators suffering the consequences of faking swab test results, there will be many more people who will recklessly endanger others with possible infection. Boracay could soon suffer a surge in COVID cases.
While acting more decisively on this problem, the government must address the root cause of the forgery: the steep cost of RT-PCR tests and limited access to testing facilities. The Philippine Red Cross has started rolling out its less invasive RT-PCR saliva testing, which provides faster results at half the price of the swab test.
The government can augment this effort by procuring its own saliva tests. Even better, it should look at the much cheaper saliva tests being used in countries such as Israel, which do not require laboratory processing and produce results instantly, with high accuracy. As long as COVID swab tests remain expensive and difficult to access, forgery of results will continue.