MANILA, Philippines — Private sector mass testing initiative Project Antibody Rapid test Kit (ARK) has joined forces with Makati City for the pilot implementation of the pooled swab testing for COVID-19.

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion, who is spearheading Project ARK, said during the virtual ceremony for the signing of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) yesterday that the pooled polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing would first be implemented in Makati City.

Also present during the signing of the MOA were Makati Mayor Abigail Binay, ARK PCR chief private implementor and Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, BDO Unibank Inc. chair Teresita Sy-Coson, as well as Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC)’s Dr. Julius Lecciones and Dr. Raymond Lo.

Under the MOA with Makati City, 10,000 individuals will be part of the pooled PCR test pilot targeted to start on Aug.15.

Those to be tested are public market vendors, tricycle, pedicab and jeepney drivers and residents of a community near Makati Coliseum.

After the testing, the data and results would be used as a guide for the city government’s COVID-19 response.

Under Project ARK’s proposed mechanism for pooled testing, the cost of testing is at P450 per person in pools of five; P350 per person in pools of 10 and P250 per person in pools of 20, inclusive of P150 swabbing fee.

If the study is approved by the Department of Health, pooled testing can be piloted in 21 implementation sites covering 11 Go Negosyo supported laboratories and five each from San Miguel Foundation and Ayala Foundation.

“I’d like to thank PCE (Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship) Go Negosyo, PSP, BDO Foundation and PCMC. It is an honor that you chose Makati to do pooled testing. We are very honored to pilot pooled testing. Until we are able to get a vaccine, we will have to live with the virus,” Binay said.

“Pooled testing will be helpful not just to our constituents but also to our business community who are unable to afford the P3,500 PCR test. Hopefully, this will encourage our companies to open up, our employees will be assured that they are not spreading the virus as well. Hopefully this is the answer we have all been waiting for so we can all move forward, living with COVID,” she added.

Coson said BDO Foundation supports the initiative to conduct pooled PCR tests.

“We always believe in this pooled testing program which is initiated by Go Negosyo under Joey Concepcion and Rep. Garin. When we learned that Mayor Abby Binay is going to start this program, we were excited to involve BDO to work along in this worthy program and I’m happy to know that we will be working together,” she said.

Apart from Makati, Concepcion said the private sector would also be funding the pilot of pooled PCR testing in the other cities and lone municipality of Metro Manila this month.

“That represents about 160,000 pooled PCR tests that will be done for this part of the research. This will be a game-changer for our country. It could speed up testing, increase the capacity and make it cheaper. Testing will create greater visibility,” he said.

He said it is important for the private sector and the local government units (LGUs) to work together in order to win the war against COVID-19.

“We are making the best out of these two weeks. The challenge is how to co-exist with COVID-19. The objective is to save lives, jobs and livelihoods,” he said.

Apart from bringing down the cost of tests, Garin said pooled testing would also help protect healthcare workers, hasten turnaround time, as well as provide a guide on where the viruses are.

“Basically it boils down to how we can put back confidence in the workplaces. We look forward that the outcome of this pilot implementation of pooled testing will be the replica that will be cascaded to all other LGUs where government, private sector and LGU will become enlightened in crushing COVID and allowing us to co-exist with it,” she said.