HEALTH Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd on Thursday confirmed the country’s first case of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
Duque said a 38-year-old woman from Wuhan, China was found to be infected with the 2019-nCoV after her test results arrived from the Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia.
The woman, who at present does not show the outward symptoms of the virus, is quarantined in a hospital in Manila.
“I assure the public that DoH (Department of Health) is on top of this evolving situation,” Duque said in a press briefing in Manila.
“We are working closely with the hospital where the patient is admitted,” he added.
The woman, who had a tourist visa, arrived from Wuhan via Hong Kong on January 21. She sought medical help after having coughs on January 25.
Director for DoH’s Epidemiology Bureau Chito Avelino said the department had requested for information on the planes that the patient flew in and other pertinent details.
What the Health department knows, so far,is that the woman had been to Cebu and Dumaguete City, Avelino said.
There is a need to identify the people who sat close to the woman in the plane. Four passengers sat at the front the woman, four at the back, and four on either side.
“Then we will contact them and advise them accordingly,” said Avelino.
He also asked the owner of the establishments where the woman stayed to get in touch with the DoH.
“We need to identify the employees that were in contact with the patient, so from there we could do the mandatory quarantine to serve them if they manifested any symptoms,” Avelino said.
With the discovery of the nCoV patient, Duque recommended restrictions in travelling to China.
He advised the public to remain vigilant, avoid crowded places and to wear face masks.
“Let us continue to practice personal hygiene and adopt healthy lifestyles,” Duque said.
Twenty-nine persons in the Philippines are suspected of being infected with the virus.
Eighteen of them are in Metro Manila, four in Central Visayas, three in Western Visayas, and one each in Mimaropa, Eastern Visayas, Northern Mindanao and Davao.
Malacañang asked the public to remain calm.
Secretary Martin Andanar of the Presidential Communications Operation Office gave assurances that the government is on top of the situation.
“Relevant health, research and law enforcement agencies are working together to prevent the disease from spreading. DoH is in constant coordination and collaboration with health and research authorities in Australia, Japan and China on implementing necessary undertakings on the matter. In fact, with the help of our counterparts in Japan, we are now capable of detecting and diagnosing 2019-nCoV-infected patients on our own,” he said.
The Palace official noted that the government also intensified “containment measures and the necessary precautionary measures are being taken to address this health concern.”
“With the continuous inflow of travelers coming from affected areas in China, we will continue to conduct necessary stringent customs, immigration and quarantine measures to prevent the disease from spreading within the country,” Andanar said.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Thursday said it would assist the DoH in monitoring major entry points in the country.
PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac bared that the PNP Health Service had set up a direct line of communication with DoH.
The PNP’s Maritime Group and Aviation Security Group are also standing by to be mobilized “upon receipt of advisory or guidance from the DoH,” he said in a statement.
In a related development, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade instructed maritime regulators to have stringent monitoring at all seaports, especially those that cruise ships frequent.
Transportation Assistant Secretary for Communications Hope Libiran said Tugade issued the directive to the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).
Last Tuesday, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority barred cruise liners at the Subic Bay Freeport, on the request of Subic Mayor Jonathan John Khonghun.
PCG Commandant Adm. Joel Garcia said he had alerted port state control officers to intensify maritime security in response to the viral outbreak.
PPA General Manager Jay Daniel Santiago said all ports under the agency’s supervision were coordinating with the Bureau of Quarantine in screening arriving passengers.
WITH DARWIN PESCO AND RAFFY AYENG