DoH confirms Philippines’ 3rd coronavirus case

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A THIRD case of the novel coronavirus (nCoV) in the Philippines has been confirmed in a 60-year old Chinese woman who previously tested negative twice for the virus, the Department of Health (DoH) reported on Wednesday.

The patient flew back to China on January 31 after the two tests, but a re-testing done on February 3 confirmed she was a carrier of the new strain of the coronavirus.

“A sample taken from the patient last January 24 was tested at the Victoria Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in Australia and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM). Results from the said tests came back negative last January 29 and 30… However, on February 3, DoH was notified by RITM that a sample taken earlier, January 23, tested positive for the 2019 nCoV,” Health Undersecretary Rolado Enrique C. Domingo said in a briefing.

He explained that the earlier negative results were taken during what is considered the offset period of her illness, while the January 23 sample was towards “the end of her illness.”

The woman traveled from Wuhan City, the nCoV epicenter, and arrived in Cebu City through Hong Kong on January 20, and went on to Bohol.

The first case of nCoV in the country was reported last week in a 38-year old Chinese woman who is currently in stable condition but remains under strict monitoring. Her partner, a 44-year old Chinese man, was the second confirmed case reported in the country and the first nCoV-related death outside China.

For the first two cases, the DoH has assessed 203 contacts and quarantined 188. Of these, 14 are currently under monitoring among the 15 who showed symptoms.

As of February 5, DoH said there have been 133 persons under investigation (PUIs) for the nCoV, of which 115 are in quarantine while 16 have already been discharged. Two have died, including the second reported case of the virus and another who was tested negative.

Of the PUIs, 63 are Filipinos, 54 Chinese, and the rest are other nationalities. Thirty-two of the total PUIs have a travel history in Wuhan.

Meanwhile, multinational pharmaceutical firms have expressed readiness to send commercial testing kits for the nCoV, but the DoH said it won’t be accepting any for now due to validation concerns.

The Pharmaceutical and Heatlthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) on Wednesday said some member companies will be sending testing kits to aid government response to the health emergency.

Yung readiness ng (The readiness of the) pharmaceutical industry is to support,” said PHAP Medical Adviser Diana M. Edralin in a briefing.

PHAP said these kits have already been validated by authorities in other countries and will just need the Research Institute of Tropical Medicines’ (RITM) validation.

However, Mr. Domingo said there are still no testing kits that have been validated by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Meron talagang test kits available. Makakabili ka na siguro online (There are really test kits available. You can probably buy them online) but the WHO has not validate any test kit,” he said.

The WHO is currently validating one test kit and recommendations on its accuracy will still take up to two weeks.

For Filipinos in China’s Hubei province, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said they are already preparing the permits and clearances for repatriation.

“The DFA… is processing now all of the permits and clearances for the repatriation of our Filipinos in Hubei province. Right now, there are 42 Filipinos who have signified their intent to join the repatriation,” DFA Undersecretary for Civilian Security and Consular Concerns Brigido J. Dulay said in a hearing at the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The DFA Undersecretary also clarified that the repatriation is intended only for Filipinos in Hubei, which has been under lockdown since January 23.

Mr. Dulay also said that the DFA is working closely with the DoH to ensure that quarantine protocols are observed.

“So we are working with them on the protocols for containment of infectious diseases and this will cover both the flight that leaves Manila and ends up in Wuhan, as well as the flight bringing back the repatriates to the Philippines,” he said.

In another related development, those who published false information online relating to the nCoV could face cybercrime-related charges, the Justice secretary said.

“If the intent in causing the publication of false information is to create or aggravate public disorder, or undermine government efforts during a state of public emergency, and such publication is effected by means of information technology, appropriate charges under the Revised Penal Code in relation to the cybercrime prevention law may be filed against perpetrators,” Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra told reporters in a mobile-phone message

Mr. Guevarra on Tuesday issued a department order mandating the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate and build up cases against alleged peddlers of “misinformation and fake news” and for “false reporting.” — Gillian M. Cortez, Genshen L. Espedido, and Vann Marlo M. Villegas