The grounding of the ONP COVID Laboratory must have caught health officials unaware. Suddenly, it ran out of reagents to perform COVID-19 tests on swab samples. The news was that the Department of Health could also no longer forward the samples to their main laboratories in Manila like they used to do when the Ospital ng Palawan had no laboratory yet, as these were supposedly heavily backlogged already. To date, the DOH has yet to find out if other laboratories in other provinces could handle Palawan’s pending specimens mostly collected from Coron where a spike of cases recently occurred.

Just when Palawan was beginning to look steady on a flattening curve, with no new cases reported in the mainland this week, all ongoing testing suddenly grinds to a halt. The problem looks critical for Coron, a tightly packed coastal town in northern Palawan which had reported an alarming case of community transmission. The town now has over a hundred swab tests waiting to be tested. The situation in the region was bad enough that the entire Calamianes Islands comprising of four town had to go on a strict lockdown as a protective measure.

According to the health department’s regional office, the shortage on the supply of reagents is linked to a global demand, and that their single supplier had not been able to deliver their orders.

There are no reports yet of other GeneXpert laboratories from other provinces getting bogged down because of supply issues, but if the explanation of the MIMAROPA office is true, there is a list of hard questions that the Department of Health will have to answer, foremost of which is why it failed or had not stocked up on the critical supplies to begin with.

A basic management concern such as this is supposed to be covered by whatever game plan the Duterte administration is following to combat he disease. If it is true that a national shortage of cartridges and reagents for the network of COVID-19 laboratories all over the country is already a problem, we have yet to hear about it. All we know thus far is that Palawan has ground to a halt.

The national government’s response to the pandemic has not had many rave reviews except perhaps among its partisan gallery. This is evidently one critical issue that needs to be brought out to the open by Palawan stakeholders, specifically its policy makers who are managing our local response.

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