Philippines containing coronavirus; no outbreak yet

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By Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporter
Charmaine A. Tadalan, Reporter
and Genshen L. Espedido

THE Philippines is at the “containment stage” in its fight against a deadly coronavirus strain that has killed hundreds in China and sickened thousands more, health authorities said on Monday.

The virus had not been transmitted in communities and the government was trying to isolate cases of infection, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) said at a briefing at the presidential palace.

“We are trying to prevent the virus from spreading to the community by identifying cases who can possibly have been infected,” RITM Director Celia C. Carlos said.

Ms. Carlos urged people who have recently traveled to China to follow quarantine procedures. “If you start experiencing symptoms, report to the hospital authorities for evaluation.”


About 80 people in the Philippines were under investigation for the novel coronavirus, while one of two confirmed people — both Chinese nationals from Hubei province where the virus had first been detected — had died, the Department of Health said.

The death of the 44-year-old Chinese man, who died of severe pneumonia in the Philippines, was the first coronavirus-related death outside China.

Health authorities said 67 of the 80 have been isolated, while 10 have been discharged but were still being monitored.

Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III traced the increase in the number people under investigation to the agencies improved efforts and expanded coverage.

“It means surveillance has been improved,” he said at a televised briefing.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global health emergency as the new deadly coronavirus strain that came from China spread to more than 20 countries, including the Philippines.

WHO cited the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it.

There were more than 17,000 confirmed cases worldwide, and at least 362 people in China have died, according to the World Health Organization. The vast majority of the cases are in China.

Rabindra R. Abeyasinghe, WHO’s representative in the Philippines, said WHO was confident that the coronavirus outbreak could be contained.

He urged the public to practice proper hygiene, wear face masks and take precautions if they show signs of respiratory infection.

“We need the public to act rationally. It is important that we don’t panic unnecessarily,” Mr. Abeyasinghe said.

The Health department is seeking P1 billion in supplemental budget to fight the virus, said Quezon Rep. Angelina D.L. Tan, who heads the health committee.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano said the short and medium-term impacts of the novel coronavirus on the tourism and travel industry should be cushioned.

“We still have to prepare a plan to lessen its impact,” he said in a statement, referring to the travel ban imposed by the Philippines.

He said he had asked House tourism and economic affairs committees to work with the Department of Tourism “to ensure that tourism growth will not be derailed in the next few months.”

“The government must pool its resources to prevent this public health issue from becoming an economic crisis,” Mr. Cayetano said.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Ernesto C. Abella said 42 Filipinos from Hubei province have expressed a desire to come home. No Filipino in China has been confirmed to have contracted the virus, he added.

An aircraft may leave for China this week, Mr. Abella said. He added that more than 295,000 Filipinos are in mainland China.

Immigration spokesman Krizia Dana M. Sandoval said about 300 Chinese nationals bound for China and its special administrative regions had been stranded at the Manila airport.

The government was coordinating with the Chinese embassy for their departure, he said.

“They have pledged to send an aircraft to fetch their citizens who are stranded in the country,” she said at the same briefing in Malacañang.

The government has imposed a travel ban for mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau amid the outbreak. Local airlines have also canceled flights to China.

The Labor department ordered the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to give P10,000 in aid to stranded overseas Filipino Workers affected by the travel ban.