PH issues travel ban vs tourists from Hubei, China

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has ordered a temporary travel ban covering all tourists coming from Hubei in China following the announcement of the country's first confirmed case of the 2019 novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD).

Hubei is the province in China where Wuhan, the epicenter of the 2019-nCoV ARD, is located. China has implemented a lockdown on Hubei since January 24.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the travel ban will last until the threat is over "given that the safety of our countrymen is foremost in the President's mind."

The Department of Health (DOH) said it will also recommend the expansion of the travel ban to cover more Chinese provinces, as more and more new cases have been reported.

As of Friday afternoon, January 31, China reported 9,692 confirmed cases of the new virus and the death toll rose to 213 from 170, the Associated Press reported.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Friday the 2019-nCoV ARD health event as a public health emergency of international concern, but the WHO Emergency Committee on Novel Coronavirus under the International Health Regulations does not recommend the imposition of any travel or trade restrictions.

It said, however, that it respects the sovereign power of member states to impose measures aimed at protecting the health of its constituents.

In the Philippines, the DOH said there is no additional positive case, but two more patients have been placed under investigation (PUI) for the 2019-nCoV ARD as of 12 noon Friday, bringing the total recorded number of PUIs to 31.

Of the 31, 23 PUIs are currently admitted and isolated, while six have been discharged but are still under strict monitoring, said the DOH.

It assured the public that the country's first confirmed case -- a 38-year-old female from Wuhan, China -- is isolated and being properly treated.

DOH said contact tracing is being conducted in coordination with the Bureau of Quarantine.

The Chinese woman reportedly came from Wuhan and traveled to Hong Kong, then to Cebu, then to Dumaguete City, and then to Manila. She has been confined in isolation at the San Lazaro Hospital in Metro Manila.

Panelo said Friday that as per DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III, there is no way that the patient will transmit the disease to another person, as "the hospital personnel are protectively dressed and their mouths and noses covered with surgical masks, plus their hands covered with gloves."

He appealed to the public to follow the advice of the DOH -- to observe personal hygiene as a preventive measure.

The DOH also said in a press briefing Friday that stricter infection control measures are being implemented in hospitals with PUIs both for patients and health workers.

"With this declaration comes the need to be more vigilant. I continue to urge everyone to practice precautionary measures, such as observing proper hygiene, following cough etiquette, avoiding crowded places, eating nutritious food such as fruits and vegetables, and hydrating oneself," said Duque.

"For our health workers, I strongly advise you to wear protective personnel equipment such as disposable face mask, gown, and gloves when in contact with a patient's blood, body fluids or secretions, in keeping with prevailing hospital protocols. I also remind our health staff to ensure proper disposal of hospital waste. I urge you to wash your laundry thoroughly, boost your immunity by taking vitamins, and monitor yourselves for any signs and symptoms. Your health and safety is of paramount concern to the Department," he added.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar, for his part, said he supports Duterte's decision to impose an indefinite travel ban on incoming travelers from the entire province of Hubei.

"As part of this administration's preventive measures against the 2019-Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and its adherence to the mandate of ensuring public health and safety, such undertaking was deemed necessary," Andanar said in a statement.

"We continue to seek everyone's cooperation towards heeding the precautionary measures and safety advisories being promulgated. Please avoid crowded places as much as possible, use mask and gloves, and practice of proper hygiene, in order to reduce any exposure to and transmission of the 2019-nCoV," he added. (LMY/SunStar Philippines)