DFA sends ship to bring home 97 seafarers stranded in China

THE DEPARTMENT of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has organized a ship that will bring home 97 Filipino seafarers stranded in another vessel docked in China. Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido D. Dulay, in an online briefing Wednesday, said the crewmen have been stuck at their ship as China still restricts disembarkation of foreigners. “The way that our consulate in Xiamen devised is to bring them home via another vessel. Tuloy na itong vessel na ito, nandyan na ‘yung ibang seafarers, sinusubukan namin magsakay pa ng iba (This vessel is ready to go, some of the seafarers are there, and we are trying to get others on board),” he said. The DFA is also currently working on permits to allow the vessel to enter the Philippines. More than 63,000 overseas Filipinos have come home since February due to the global crisis brought about by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Mr. Dulay said they have been repatriating an average of 1,000-1,500 Filipinos per day, but the department is working to increase the capacity of airports to process more entrants.

Meanwhile, the remains of 274 overseas Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia are expected to be flown in this week, according to Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III. In a separate briefing on Wednesday, Mr. Bello said “we are doing our best” to sort out the long list of requirements, including health protocols and consent from employers and next of kin. There were initially 301 remains to be brought home, but Mr. Bello said some of them were already either buried there or brought back by their respective families. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Gillian M. Cortez

Police starts probe on J&T Express

THE POLICE Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) has started its investigation on the alleged mishandling of cargo by delivery firm PH Global Jet Express Inc. (J&T Express). Brig. Gen. Rhoderick Armamento, CIDG deputy director for administration, on Wednesday said they have discussed with investigators on how to handle the probe. “We have met with our National Capital Region field unit and our legal department,” he said in a text message. President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Tuesday night ordered the CIDG and the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the complaints against the courier firm. J&T Express has been under fire following a viral video showing some of its workers mishandling cargo. Mr. Duterte threatened to close down the firm and “file charges” if needed. J&T Express, in an email to BusinessWorld on Wednesday, said it “appreciates” the President’s concern, particularly during in this time of the coronavirus crisis when delivery services have become crucial. “We appreciate the concern expressed by the President towards our customers’ welfare as well as the well-being of our many partners and employees. Furthermore, we will cooperate with the government in any investigation that it will conduct. We are committed to improving our services for the benefit of the public,” the company said. — Emmanuel Tupas/PHILSTAR and Gillian M. Cortez

Hog raisers told to be extra alert amid new swine flu strain

AN INFECTIOUS DISEASE specialist called on hog raisers and people who are constantly exposed to pigs to take extra caution after a new swine flu strain capable of triggering a pandemic was recently discovered in China. “We should be cautious everyday, especially with the discovery of this new type of influenza on pigs. There is really potential that the virus can infect humans,” San Lazaro Hospital Infectious Disease Specialist Rontgene M. Solante said in a radio interview on Wednesday. Mr. Solante also recommended that government agencies involved in the hog industry initiate testing on pigs to check if the virus strain is already in the country. Chinese researchers have discovered a new type of swine flu named G4. Their study published in the US science journal PNAS indicates that G4 genetically descended from the H1N1 strain that started a pandemic in 2009 and has all the “essential hallmarks” of being highly adapted to infect humans. The tests from the study also showed that the immunity gained by humans from exposure to a seasonal flu does not give protection from G4. Scientists involved in the study said the virus has already passed from animals to humans, but no evidence yet showing possible human to human transmission. “It is of concern that human infection of (the) G4 virus will further human adaptation and increase the risk of a human pandemic,” the researchers said.

The Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), meanwhile, urged the public to report any unusual pig deaths to farm veterinarians or the nearest government veterinary or agricultural office. In a statement on Wednesday, the BAI also recommended farm owners to consult their licensed veterinarians to check farm biosafety and biosecurity programs. “Reports on flu-like symptoms have been increasing this rainy season and this could affect both agricultural workers and our swine production,” the agency said. “The public, especially those engaged in animal farming, is encouraged to report to the Department of Health any unusual sickness among farm workers,” it added. The agency also gave assurance that the country has been strictly implementing the ban on pork and swine products from China. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave

Courts ordered to close based on positive swab test confirmation

THE OFFICE of the Court Administrator (OCA) has prohibited the closure or lockdown of courts if an employee tested positive for coronavirus infection based solely on a rapid antibody test. In a circular signed by Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez, OCA said those who test positive for coronavirus infections should immediately undergo swab test for confirmation. “In the interim, courts exposed to subjects who tested positive using the rapid antibody test shall neither be closed down or locked down,” it said, citing guidelines from the Department of Health. Contact tracing must also be conducted for monitoring of symptoms, it added. Those with symptoms will be quarantined for 14 days or until they become asymptomatic, “whichever is longer.” If the confirmatory test is positive, the court will be closed for 14 days and immediately disinfected. As an additional safety protocol, all visitors and court users are required to register their contact information upon entry for contact tracing purposes. Individual branches and offices within the hall may also require the same. “Court users who are later confirmed for COVID-19 shall likewise immediately inform the court they have visited,” it said. Several courts in Metro Manila recently closed after employees either had a positive rapid test result or had contact with a coronavirus patient. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas