IT turned out well for the 26 South Korean nationals who arrived in Cebu last week and for the local community anxious about the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
All 26 who surveillance officials wanted to be monitored were located and found to have no symptoms of the Covid-19. Of the 26, 17 returned to South Korea as of Monday night, March 2, 2020.
Eight remained in self-quarantine in their homes or hotel rooms. One moved to Pampanga also on quarantine. The South Korean consul reportedly told Cebu City officials he would help monitor these compatriots.
Before they were all found, before their health condition was ascertained, there was information that got passed around on social media that created concern, if not panic, to the detriment of some hotels.
Health officials wanted to put the 26 South Korean nationals under surveillance after they arrived in Cebu Tuesday last week, Feb. 25, from Daegu, North Gyeongsang province, South Korea, where there has been a rise in Covid-19 cases. The Philippines ordered a ban on travel from North Gyeongsang last Feb. 26.
Surveillance personnel were able to trace 19 of the 26 immediately and placed them on quarantine in their rooms in hotels in Cebu and Lapu-Lapu cities. But seven were unaccounted for as of Friday. Then someone posted on Facebook a list of names of these South Korean nationals and the hotels where they were supposedly staying with a warning for the public not to go to these hotels.
Health officials held an emergency press conference to declare the lists unverified and unofficial because these did not come from government. But the damage was done and hotels received cancellation orders for room reservations and events.
This may not be the last time that a chase will be done to search for persons who need to be monitored for the virus. The numbers of Covid-19 infections and deaths continue to go up with no cure in sight.
There has been no new infection in the Philippines except for the three cases that included one death last month but health and quarantine officials are insisting on strict implementation of health screening procedures to keep the virus from reaching the local transmission level.
Health and quarantine officials may examine how the case of the 26 South Korean nationals turned out and what measures agencies and hotels could have taken to protect identities and locations and control the release of unofficial information.
As to the leak, the information must have come from someone who has the list, to begin with, making it necessary for agencies to review need-to-know rules for sensitive information. The South Korean community here could have been tapped early for help.
The public should have been assured that efforts to look for the seven initially reported missing will be sustained and that all 26 did not manifest flu-like symptoms; that was why they were able to clear health screening at the airport.
Let there be lessons for authorities here from this incident.