2019-nCoV case confirmed

THE Department of Health (DOH) confirmed on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020 the country’s first case of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

The patient, a 38-year-old female from Wuhan, China arrived in the country last Jan. 21.

DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III assured the public that all necessary precautionary measures are being taken to prevent the spread of the virus.

“I urge the public to stay calm and remain vigilant at all times. Let us continue to practice good personal hygiene and adopt healthy lifestyles,” Duque said.

Results of laboratory tests done on the patient arrived Thursday, Jan. 30, from the Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia where her swab samples were found positive for 2019-nCoV.

The patient was admitted in one of the country’s government hospitals last Jan. 25 after experiencing mild cough. The DOH, however, refused to name the hospital.

“She is currently asymptomatic,” said Duque in a press statement.

“I assure the public that the Department of Health is on top of this evolving situation. We were able to detect the first confirmed case because of our strong surveillance system, close coordination with World Health Organization and other national agencies, and the utilization of DOH’s decision tool,” he said.

He added that health authorities are working closely with the hospital where the patient is admitted and have activated the Incident Command System of the said hospital for appropriate management, specifically on infection control, case management, and containment.

“We are also implementing measures to protect the health staff providing care to these patients,” Duque said.

DOH assured its health facilities are equipped and prepared to receive and care for persons under investigation (PUIs) and confirmed 2019-nCoV cases.

The DOH is also in close coordination with the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

As of Thursday, the DOH has recorded a total of 29 persons under investigation (PUIs) for 2019-nCoV.

Of the 29, 18 are in Metro Manila, four in Central Visayas, three in Western Visayas, one in Mimaropa, one in Eastern Visayas, one in Northern Mindanao, and one in Davao.

A total of 23 PUIs are currently admitted and five have been discharged but are still under strict monitoring, according to DOH.

One PUI also reportedly died, but it remained unclear whether the death was caused by the novel coronavirus since he was also found positive for HIV.

Diagnosis in PH

Earlier, a Japanese team arrived at the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila with a primer for RNA (ribonucleic acid) viruses such as the 2019-nCoV.

Duque said this means that in 48 hours, the Philippines would have the capability to diagnose the highly contagious 2019-nCoV and would no longer need to send specimens from patients to Australia for confirmatory tests.

“In about 48 hours, we shall be able to set up our own capability to detect the novel coronavirus and no longer need to send (specimens) for confirmatory testing to Melbourne, Australia,” Duque told the House of Representatives, Wednesday.

In China, the death toll rose to 170 as of 7:49 p.m. Thursday.

Authorities said the figures cover the previous 24 hours and represent an increase of 38 deaths. At least 7,800 infections have been confirmed worldwide, the Associated Press reports.

Of the new deaths, 37 were in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak in Hubei province, and one in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

The DOH Bureau of Quarantine (BoQ) remains on high alert and is in constant coordination with authorities from all ports of entry for stricter border surveillance.

Not in Cebu

DOH 7 Director Jaime Bernadas said in Cebu, there remain two suspected coronavirus cases. He clarified that the first confirmed nCoV case is in Metro Manila.

“I will hold information because I don’t have documents on the whereabouts, but we are informed that we have one tested positive in Manila confirmed from Australia with the new novel coronavirus,” said Bernadas.

Executive order

At the Capitol, Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia ordered a 14-day quarantine for travelers from China, including Macau and Hongkong, to contain the spread of nCoV.

A late night advisory from Capitol’s Information Office also said the governor subscribes to the recommendation of Duque to ban travelers coming from Wuhan and all other cities from Hubei Province.

“All other travelers arriving to Cebu coming from other places outside Hubei province will be placed under quarantine for 14 days,” read part of the advisory.

Earlier, Garcia said the Province will use provincial and DOH facilities as quarantine centers. She also sought help from the private sector.

Garcia will formalize the quarantine directive through an executive order (EO) which will be issued by her in one to two days, she said. Her EO will include a ban on group travels coming from China.

The governor clarified that as chief executive, she could not ban travelers as “this will have an implication on foreign relations which policy making rests solely on the power of the President as chief executive.”

Cebu Chinese Consul General Jia Li said Chinese nationals are ready to abide by measures implemented by the Provincial Government.

“The Chinese Government is ready and very open to cooperate whatever the decision is. Not only us but also the Chinese embassy in Manila. We are in close contact with the Health Departments,” Li said.

Private hospitals

For his part, Bernadas said private hospitals are advised to admit patients suspected of contracting coronavirus and isolate them.

“Even private hospitals are capable of admitting coronavirus patients as level 2,3 and 4 hospitals. The criteria would be if the patient cannot afford, then they can be referred to government hospitals. But if the patient can afford, private hospitals should admit them,” Bernadas said in a mix of Cebuano and English.

nCoV task forces

In a meeting on Thursday, Garcia created a multi-agency task force to help guard against the entry of the dreaded disease.

The task force is composed of reprentatives from DOH, BoQ, Provincial Health Office, Cebu Port Authority, Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority (MCIAA), GMR Megawide Cebu Airport Corp., Hotel, Resort and Restaurant Association of Cebu, Cebu Association of Travel and Tours, Bureau of Immigration (BI), League of Municipalities of the Philippines, Association of Barangay Councils, Cebu Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Department of Tourism, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Education, Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Maritime Industry Authority and airline companies.

The task force is further divided into three teams: surveillance and monitoring, quarantine, and education and information.

Cebu City

In Cebu City, Task Force Coronavirus formed by the City Council met to formulate a template to handle nCoV if it enters its jurisdiction.

The task force members include the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, City Treasurer’s Office, City Administrator’s Office, Association of Barangay Councils, Department of Health, Cebu City Medical Center, City Public Information Office, the City Council committees on health and disaster risk reduction and management, and the City’s quick response team.

During the meeting, the task force stressed the importance of disseminating accurate information on nCoV to the public.

Block entry

Reacting to Mayor Edgardo Labella’s plan to ban Chinese tourists from the city, Vice Mayor Michael Rama, presiding officer of the Cebu City Council and chairman of the committee on health, said: “Who will block the entry of those tourists? It’s the Bureau of Immigration. It’s the (Philippine) Coast Guard. Those are from the national government.”

Rama said if Chinese tourists were to be banned, the ban should also include other countries that had confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV.

Meanwhile, Labella continued to push for the ban on Chinese tourists.

“We have to protect our people. We have to sound them (National Government) off on the stand of the local government units,” the mayor said.

Labella is set to meet with officials of the BoQ, BI, DOH 7, the chiefs of the private and public hospitals in the city and MCIA on Friday, Jan. 31.

Data from GMR Megawide Cebu Airport Corp. shows that around 1,500 passengers from China arrive in Cebu through the Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA) daily.

Other developments:

  • Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar in an interview with SunStar Cebu’s Tell It to SunStar, Thursday, said President Duterte still has to assess “properly and in detail” whether or not to ban flights from China.

Andanar said Duterte will get advice from DOH and the Department of Foreign Affairs on the matter.

  • Some flights to and from China have already been cancelled at MCIA. According to airport sources, Philippine Airlines (PAL), which is supposed to have five direct flights to China, had no flights. PAL also announced on Thursday that it had suspended charter flights between Kalibo in the Philippines and Nanjing, Hangzhou and Pudong Shanghai in China, as Chinese authorities implement precautionary measures to restrict outbound tourist travel from the mainland.

Cebu Pacific (Cebpac) which travelled six times a week to Shanghai has reduced its flights to four. From Feb. 10 to 28, Cebupac will further reduce its flights to Shanghai to once a week and then cancel all its flights to Shanghai and Hongkong from March 1-28.

Air Asia which travels three times a week to Chenzen and Macau cancelled one flight, while China Eastern which has five fights daily to Shanghai did not cancel any of its flights but planned to cancel its February flights to Nanjing.

More flights:

China Southern Airlines - No advised changes in flights mostly connecting passengers from Europe and America’s and Guangzhou, China to Cebu.

Xiamen Airlines - MCIA received advice that it would cancel its Cheng Dou and JinJiang flights from Feb. 1 till the end of March. The airline still had a flight out of Cebu on Thursday, Jan. 30.

Pan Pacific - Effective Jan. 30, Chengdou flights were cancelled.

Eva Air - Most of its Chinese routes were cancelled including Taipei to Cebu.

Cathay Pacific - Mainland flights from China are “50 percent cancelled” from Jan. 31 till March, according to MCIA.

  • The Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) and the Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) said the 2019-nCoV is hurting the local economy.

“Tourist arrivals will see a reduction. It’s going to disrupt the way we do the tourism ecosystem,” CCCI president Virgilio Espeleta said.

“The impact is not yet noticeable, but we expect that in the weeks to come. We have to reach other markets and encourage domestic tourism to come to Mandaue so it can at least for the meantime, cover up,” MCCI president Steven Yu, for his part, said.

  • Starting Thursday, Jan. 23, MCIA implemented stricter measures including intensified thermal scanning, hand sanitation and air disinfection and a dedicated medical team at arrival areas to prevent the spread of 2019-nCoV. Free surgical masks were also handed out to passengers.

Passengers with flu-like symptoms are encouraged to self-declare and voluntarily submit to medical screening by BoQ when they disembark.

Information materials and announcements, printed in Mandarin and English, are also available in MCIA’s Terminals 1 and 2, while isolation rooms are ready for passengers who may need quarantine.

  • The Lapu-Lapu City Health Office (CHO) is giving out free surgical masks to city residents, but CHO head Agnes Realiza said priority will be given to those with cough and colds so they don’t infect others. (WBS, ANV, JJL, JOB, GCM / with SunStar Philippines / RHB )