Dr. Antonio Robert Abaya, chief medical officer of the maritime clinic Health Metrics Inc., broke this unfavorable news during a webinar titled, “All Hands on Deck: Ensuring the Health and Wellness of Filipino Seafarers and Vessel Passengers in the Time of COVID-19,” on October 2, 2020.
Dr. Abaya said his clinic has been subjecting seafarers applying for jobs abroad to the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test since May 2020.
“We’ve seen pretty high numbers. We’ve seen positivity rates increasing,” the top official of Health Metrics said.
“From 1.4 % in May it slowly increased to 3.5 % by end of September, 2020,” he added.
In May, 22 seafarers out of 1,555 tested were found positive for COVID-19; in July, 127 seafarers out of 4,357 tested were positive for a 2.4 positivity rate; and in September, 65 seafarers out of 1,612 were positive, according to figures presented by Dr. Abaya.
He explained that more people had tested positive for COVID “because we have opened the economy; many people are travelling especially in the NCR (National Capital Region).”
So for seafarers applying for jobs abroad, “3 % of these guys would not be able to go on board because they are COVID-19 positive so they have to wait for another 14 days or the next possible crew change, he further commented.
Dr. Abaya first discussed the various types of test administered to seafarers for COVID-19: the rapid antibody test which requires blood samples; then the more recent, rapid anti-gen, which also requires swabbing.
But the gold standard, he said, is the RT-PCR test which needs a swab test and the result is more accurate.