A 57-YEAR-OLD Chinese man became the third person under investigation (PUI) for the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) to have died in the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) announced Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.
In a press conference, DOH Undersecretary Eric Domingo disclosed that the patient died of pneumonia while admitted at the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila.
He, however, had "underlying restrictive lung disease" and tested negative for the 2019-nCoV twice.
"It was confirmed yesterday (Thursday). It is a case of pneumonia in a patient with underlying restrictive lung disease," said Domingo.
Two other Chinese men who were also both classified as PUIs had also died at the San Lazaro Hospital.
The first, a 29-year-old Chinese male who was found positive for human immunodeficiency virus, died of pneumonia. He was later found negative for the 2019-nCoV.
The second fatality, a 44-year-old Chinese male, tested positive for the 2019-nCoV and was the first recorded 2019-nCoV death outside China.
The second fatality had traveled with a 38-year-old Chinese woman, who was identified as the first confirmed 2019-nCoV case in the country. She remains confined at the San Lazaro Hospital.
Including the 2019-nCoV-positive man who died, there are three confirmed cases in the Philippines. The third is a 60-year-old Chinese woman who initially tested negative for the virus and was discharged from a hospital in Bohol in Central Visayas. She had returned to China.
Domingo said they were studying the legality of imposing forced hospital admission for PUIs who refuse to be admitted, thus putting their close contacts at risk.
"Actually, the government really has the authority, especially if we can already see that their health is deteriorating... It might come to forced quarantine. We have the quarantine law, which gives us the authority when really needed," said Domingo. “We want them in hospitals if they have symptoms. This is so if their case worsens, we can treat them."
Still, health officials said they don't want to exercise the authority as much as possible believing they can still convince PUIs to get admitted.
"We are urging everyone, especially the PUIs who refused admission, to cooperate with the DOH, their local government units and the Philippine National Police (PNP). We owe it to the Filipino people to do our part in preventing the spread of this disease and put everyone’s minds at ease," DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a separate statement.
"Of course, as much as possible, we want it to be a dialogue and in a manner where we can convince them," said Domingo. "Some are afraid of the hospital expenses. Although, at this point, the government is shouldering the expenses of all patients."
In Cebu City, Mayor Edgardo Labella has allowed the DOH and the Bureau of Quarantine to use a rehabilitation facility in Sitio Sudlon in Barangay Lahug as a quarantine center for persons under monitoring (PUMs) and PUIs.
Although the City Government is still negotiating with the building owner, the latter's feedback has so far been positive, he said.
The mayor said the public need not panic that a quarantine center will be located in a residential area, adding that “PUMs and PUIs do not necessarily mean they are already infected.”
As this developed, the DOH Epidemiology Bureau said 36 people who have had contact with the three confirmed 2019-nCoV cases have exhibited symptoms of flu and respiratory infection.
Of the 36, 32 were traced through the Chinese couple, the first two confirmed 2019-nCoV cases, while four were contacts of the third case.
Of the total, 184 are currently admitted and isolated, nine refused admission and 17 have been discharged but are under strict monitoring.
All three 2019-nCoV-positive persons entered the Philippines through the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA).
As of Saturday, Feb. 8, the DOH recorded 267 people being checked for suspected 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease (ARD). Of the 267 cases, 16 are in Central Visayas.
Meanwhile, it is not yet known if Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia's Executive Order (EO) 5-A, which issues stricter protocols to be observed in seaports amid the 2019-nCoV outbreak, will have any effect on the import sector.
“This is an unprecedented issue and I still have to check with our members if what would be the impact,” said Steven Yu, president of the Mandaue City Chamber of Commerce.
But if, based on the EO, the cargo can be unloaded from a vessel upon arrival at the port and only the crew will be quarantined, then its effects will be minimal and manageable, he said.
“It is just minimal because I think the supplies of the vessel, they can find a way to bring these inside through crane or something and the crew can just stay inside,” he said.
Under Garcia’s EO5-A, no cargo vessel from China or any of its Special Administrative States that went to these states 14 days before their arrival in Cebu will be allowed to dock in Cebu Province unless cleared by the quarantine team.
The head of the vessel is expected to report any case of flu-like symptoms among his crew so that the symptomatic person who qualifies as a PUI will be brought to the referral hospital. If the PUI tests positive of the 2019-nCoV ARD, the entire ship will be placed under 14-day quarantine.
If a cargo vessel is assessed and cleared by the quarantine team, the cargo vessel shall be allowed to dock but only for purposes of unloading its cargo.
One of the hardest hit sectors by the 2019-nCoV outbreak is Central Visayas' tourism industry.
However, Department of Tourism (DOT) 7 Shalimar Tamano refused to divulge the extent of the problem until they've collected all the data.
The official met with tourism officers and other stakeholders to discuss ways to address the temporary travel ban on visitors from mainland China and its Special Administrative Regions that include Hong Kong and Macau.
China is the country's second biggest source of foreign visitors after South Korea with 1.499 million arrivals from January to October 2019, according to DOT records.
Mainland Chinese tourists had been flocking to Cebu, given the several direct routes available from Cebu to several Chinese cities.
However, local and Chinese airline carriers have temporarily suspended flights between Cebu and China in light of the 2019-nCoV outbreak.
Jia Li, Chinese consulate-general of the People's Republic of China in Cebu, said not less than 700,000 Chinese tourists visited Central Visayas last year. (SUNSTAR PHILIPPINES, WBS, JJL, HBL / PJB)