THE Department of Health (DoH) confirmed on Friday that there were two additional confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the Philippines, bringing the total number of cases to five.

The patients are a 48-year-old male Filipino who travelled to Japan, and a 62-year-old male Filipino with known hypertension and diabetes mellitus, Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said at a briefing.

“The fourth confirmed case is a 48-year-old male Filipino with travel history to Japan. The patient returned to the Philippines last Feb. 25 and experienced chills and fever beginning March 3,” the Health Secretary said, adding that the patient is currently stable at the Research Institute for Topical Medicine (RITM).

Meanwhile, the fifth confirmed case sought medical consultation at a hospital in Metro Manila on March 1 and was admitted with severe pneumonia. Samples were collected on March 4 and tested positive for COVID-19 on March 5.

It was also reported that the fifth case has no known history of travel outside the country, but Mr. Duque said it cannot yet be considered as a case of local transmission of COVID-19 for now.

“Well there is no transmission to speak of as of yet, because we only have one. That’s why we’re doing contact tracing… But now it’s premature to say that there is local transmission,” he said.

The patient was known to have regularly visited a Muslim prayer hall in Barangay Greenhills, San Juan City.

The city already ordered the temporary closure of the prayer room, said a statement posted on the official Twitter page of San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora.

“I have already instructed the San Juan City Health Office, with the support of the Department of Health, to immediately disinfect, sanitize, and close to the public temporarily the prayer room in Barangay Greenhills, which was frequented by a patient who lives in a municipality near Metro Manila whom the DoH has confirmed positive with coronavirus (COVID-19),” he said on Friday.

The DoH said that contract tracing is currently being done for both cases and samples have already been collected from close contacts.

The department is also in close coordination with the concerned Local Government Units on identifying persons who had interactions with the confirmed cases, and strengthening of infection prevention and control protocols.

“These recent developments are significant, but we are prepared to respond to its potential consequences. Our priority is to protect our health workers and the most vulnerable populations,” the Health Chief said.

“We can still contain the spread of the virus in the country, which is why we are encouraging the public to practice proper handwashing, social distancing, and cough etiquette. We call on the public to be vigilant and continue doing their part in containing the disease,” he added.

Prior to the two new cases, the Philippines reported that three Chinese nationals tested positive for COVID-19 while in the country. One died, while the other two recovered.

Meanwhile, the DoH also received reports of three confirmed COVID-19 cases among foreign nationals who had a history of travel to the Philippines.

The first is a 38-year-old Taiwanese male who visited the Philippines from Feb. 28 to March 3. The patient consulted at an outpatient clinic in Taiwan on March 4, and was confirmed positive for COVID-19 on March 5.

“The onset of symptoms on March 2 points to possible infection before the patient traveled to the Philippines,” the Health Secretary said.

The second case is a 44-year-old Japanese male who visited the Philippines from Feb. 21 to 28. Prior to visiting the Philippines, he traveled to Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Japan. He stayed at three different hotels during his stay in Metro Manila.

“He flew back to Japan last March 4 and was tested positive for COVID-19. The patient was admitted and is still in isolation at Aichi Prefecture Hospital. The extensive travel history of the patient suggests possible contraction of the disease in another country,” Mr. Duque said.

The third is a female living in Sydney, Australia. The patient attended a wedding in Manila on Feb. 13 and visited Pangasinan.

“The patient left the country for Sydney on March 2, and was confirmed with COVID-19 by the New South Wales Government on March 3. As for this case, DoH is still verifying information with the International Health Regulation National Focal Point Australia,” the Health Secretary said.

As of writing, the virus has killed more than 3,300 people and sickened 97,000 more, mostly in China, according to the World Health Organization. — Genshen L. Espedido