Editorial: Vigilance and care

THE Department of Health confirmed the country’s first case of the Wuhan virus on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, although it stops short in telling where the patient is confined.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque assures that the DOH is on top of this “evolving situation.” His assurance rests on three factors: one, on the agency’s “strong surveillance system;” two, the agency’s coordination with the World Health Organization and other National Government agencies; and, three, “the utilization of the DOH’s decision tool.”

The Philippines has just acquired a quicker diagnostic capability for the 2019-novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) via the arrival of a primer from Japan at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Alabang, Muntinlupa City, Metro Manila. A primer is an agent that helps identify viruses via genetic testing. The Wuhan virus, being a mutant, requires a new primer.

The first positive case, however, was confirmed through the facilities of the Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia on Jan. 30, 2020. The patient, a 38-year-old woman from Wuhan, China, arrived in the country last Jan. 21. She was admitted in a government hospital on Jan. 25, or four days since she arrived, for mild cough.

Initial reports said she had been to Cebu City and Dumaguete City. As it had been found that carriers may show no symptoms while being infectious, the woman must have left an unsafe trail while in transit. That possibility alone must alert the public, who should take to heart the DOH’s guidelines on how to protect oneself from probable infection. That possibility, too, leaves us in a wait-and-see while we pray hard that nothing ugly blows up in the next few days.

Meantime, we need to get a picture of how the DOH is dealing with the situation, if only to allay our anxieties.

On Jan. 28, the DOH, through Resolution 1 of 2020, created an inter-agency task force for the management of the novel coronavirus. This is pursuant to Executive Order 168, which mandates the creation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDs) in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, just what exactly is the DOH’s “decision tool?” It’s a checklist that the Bureau of Quarantine and hospitals use to assess suspected persons. It checks on four points: 1) If the person has fever; 2) cough or colds; 3) travel history in the last 14 days, especially in Hubei Province or other provinces in China; and 4) history of exposure, which includes direct or close contact in places infected by the virus. Persons are then categorized either as Patient Under Investigation (PUI) and Person for Monitoring.

As of Thursday, Jan. 30, the DOH already has 29 PUIs, 18 of which 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.

Meanwhile, the Cebu City Government has declared a state of preparedness, which allows it access to calamity funds that can be spent on just about any measures it can think of to protect citizens against the virus. The Cebu Provincial Government also called for mandatory quarantine for Chinese arrivals in our airports.

These are some of the measures that government has put in place. It may need the help and cooperation of citizens. It’s that time in our lives as citizens when we need to keep our eyes open as we listen to each other in the best terms possible.