We can defeat this virus, Duterte assures public

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte called on local chief executives Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, to help prevent the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in localities and assured them that the government would do everything to “defeat the virus.”

In a special meeting with local chief executives at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City, Duterte stressed the local government units’ role in preventing the spread of the 2019-nCoV that has infected thousands of people in China and other countries, including the Philippines.

As of Feb. 10, the Department of Health (DOH) reported that a total of 314 patients have been placed under investigation for the new virus. The country has three positive cases, with one death.

With no vaccine or specific treatment available to date, Duterte urged local chief executives--governors and municipal and city mayors--“to take urgent steps in preventing the spread of this disease in the localities and (provide) immediate care for those who have been afflicted.”

“I urge all of you to be more proactive in the management of cases, contact tracing, efficient prevention and control, and information dissemination of the coronavirus,” he said.

He also reminded officials to follow protocols set by the DOH and to “make sure that our people have access to equipment and services that will be of help in preventing the spread of the virus.”

Politics aside

He assured officials that if the situation goes out of hand, the government has the money.

“Wag kayong mag-alala (Don’t worry), may pera si (Finance Secretary Carlos) Dominguez (has money). We have the money, I can assure you and we can defeat this virus,” Duterte said.

Duterte also directed officials to actively engage with schools, hospitals and barangay health workers “for a more efficient community to avert possible outbreak that could affect the day-to-day lives or our people.”

He assured them and the public that the National Government remains on top of the threat.

Duterte then asked local chief executives to continue to work with the government despite their political affiliations and differences.

As of Monday noon, 261 Patients under Investigation (PUIs) were admitted in various health facilities around the country, while 48 PUIs were discharged but would still be strictly monitored. Some 109 PUIs tested negative, while there are 202 cases pending test results from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM). Of the three 2019-nCoV positive cases, one is still confined, one has been discharged and one died. All three are Chinese nationals.

The total number of PUIs rose to 314 from 284 a day earlier. The number of PUIs in Central Visayas also rose to 20 from 16 during this period.

Testing for virus in Cebu

“We are seeing a rapid increase in the transmission rate of the virus globally. In response, DOH has strengthened its capacity in preparation for the possibility of local transmission. All DOH hospitals are equipped to cater to the influx of patients and are following strict infection control protocols to contain the virus,” said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

Meanwhile, it was announced that the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) in Cebu City would soon be able to test for the 2019-nCoV in Visayas.

This was confirmed by DOH 7 Director Jaime Bernadas in a text message to SunStar Cebu. However, he said the VSMMC laboraty is still being fitted so it can conduct the test.

Aside from the VSMMC, there are four other sub-national laboratories in the country that will be upgraded to enable them to conduct the tests. These are the Baguio General Hospital in Baguio City, the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, the Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City and the Southern Philippine Medical Center in Davao City.

RITM Director Celia Carlos said these labs still had “to be equipped in terms of facilities, reagents and to be trained on the protocol and to be given proficiency tests to assess whether they can perform the test properly. That’s the only time they will be allowed to do the actual sample testing.”

During a press briefing in Malacañang on Feb. 3, Carlos said only the RITM, the research arm of the DOH, had the capability to test samples taken from suspected cases for the 2019-nCoV.

At the RITM, the waiting time for test results is 48 hours. It costs the institute P15,000 to P20,000 to conduct the test.

As of Sunday, Feb. 9, the DOH’s Epidemiology Bureau, together with the Philipine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, had identified all 441 contacts of the first and second cases of the 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease (ARD)

Regarding the third confirmed case, a total of 224, or 56 percent, out of 403 contacts were traced, including co-passengers and individual contacts from hotels and hospitals. Some 147 contacts, or 66 percent, have been interviewed and were placed on home quarantine. Eight symptomatic contacts were categorized as PUIs and were admitted for isolation and monitoring.

During a press conference at the DOH Central Office in Manila on Monday, Health Undersecretary Dr. Rolando Enrique Domingo revealed that the number of 2019-nCoV cases recorded in the last three months surpassed the number of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) recorded in one year.

No conclusive evidence

“The stand of the WHO (World Health Organization) is that when Sars happened, it was not recognized directly,” he said. “It was not sequenced compared to the 2019-nCoV. That is why the timeline is completely different. When we recognized Sars, it was probably after two months. As for n-CoV in the second week we were able to diagnose and identify the cases.”

“We don’t know yet how it would play out in the long term, but what is still clear is that even if we get cases, the fatality rate is less,” Domingo said.

The mortality rate of the 2019-nCoV has gone down to two percent compared to Sars’ mortality of 10 percent.

The DOH also said there is no conclusive evidence yet showing that the 2019-nCoV is an airborne disease.

“The WHO said there’s nothing conclusive about it and they are still doing research on it. Precaution is still to be taken, but it has not been classified by the WHO as an airborne infection,” Domingo said.

He also said the WHO is not using the term “highly infectious” to describe the disease.

“We don’t have enough data to say that it is highly infectious than the other diseases. The rate is not as high as other diseases,” he said.

Penalties

At the Cebu Provincial Capitol Monday, the Provincial Board passed an ordinance adopting the provisions of Executive Order 5, creating a provincial task force to help prevent the entry and spread of the 2019-nCoV.

The legislation also adopts the memorandum issued by Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, providing guidelines for Cebu’s local government units on how to enforce home quarantine for Cebuanos arriving from countries with confirmed cases of the 2019-nCoV.

Under the ordinance, the non-disclosure of “pertinent facts” in the health declaration card and the spread of false information on social media or any form of communication (e.g. chain text messages) on the 2019-nCoV shall be punishable by a fine of P5,000, or imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both.

Violating local government officials and employees, on the other hand, will be meted administrative disciplinary action. (LMY/PR/CTL WITH KFD)