MANILA – The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday declared the novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD) health event as a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) after an emergency committee convened on January 30 in Geneva, Switzerland.
At present, WHO Country Representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said the WHO Emergency Committee on Novel Coronavirus under the International Health Regulations does not recommend the imposition of any travel or trade restrictions, but respects the sovereign power of member states to impose measures aimed at protecting the health of its constituents.
Department of Health Usec Eric Domingo said the Philippine Government, upon the recommendation of DOH, has issued a temporary travel ban covering all travelers coming from Hubei Province of China.
He said DOH will also be recommending the expansion of the travel ban coverage to more Chinese provinces as new information on the increasing number of cases per region arises.
Two more patients
In the Philippines, the DOH reported an additional two (2) patients under investigation (PUIs) as of 12 NN today, bringing the total recorded number of PUIs to thirty-one (31).
One of the two patients is a Chinese whose companion also remains under close monitoring at Lazaro Hospital. The other patient is an American, confined at the same hospital in Sta. Cruz, Manila.
Twenty-three PUIs are currently admitted and isolated, while six have been discharged but are still under strict monitoring. DOH also reported one confirmed case and one PUI mortality.
Domingo said the DOH is assuring the public that the first confirmed case is isolated and being properly treated, and that contact tracing is being conducted in coordination with the Bureau of Quarantine, Epidemiology Bureau and other government agencies.
Health Sec. Francisco Duque III said they are looking for flight passengers who was in close contact with the Philippines’ first case of the 2019 new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak.
The patient, a 38-year-old woman, came from Wuhan, where the novel virus originated. Her boyfriend, who had traveled with her, was already in quarantine.
The patient was only coughing a bit and no longer had fever or any other symptom, which meant her case was “mild”, he said.
Duque said the patient came from Wuhan where she took flights to Hong Kong, then Cebu and Dumaguete, before arriving in Manila on Jan. 21.
For each of these flights, Duque said authorities have to trace the passengers who were up to 4 seats away from the patient, he said.
He said their personnel at the surveillance office are conducting contact tracing. “Our system for containment measures is in place,” said Duque.
DOH Epidemiology Bureau chief Chito Avelino said that with the information they gathered this morning from the results of the laboratory, they have requested for the flight details of the Chinese woman and the places she had gone to upon arriving in the country.
He said they have also directed health authorities in Region 7 to conduct contact-tracing, or tracking people who may have been exposed to the patient.
He said they would trace details of the woman’s flights and track passengers who were seated close to her.
“For the plane, we do the rules of 4 – that means, we need to identify four passengers in front, four passengers at the back, and four passengers on both sides (of the patient).
We contact these passengers and advise them accordingly,” Avelino said.
Meanwhile, Duque said stricter infection control measures are also being implemented in hospitals with PUIs both for patients and health workers.
“With this declaration comes the need to be more vigilant. I continue to urge everyone to practice precautionary measures, such as observing proper hygiene, following cough etiquette, avoiding crowded places, eating nutritious food such as fruits and vegetables, and hydrating oneself,” he said.
“For our health workers, he strongly advised them to wear protective personnel equipment such as disposable face mask, gown, and gloves when in contact with a patient’s blood, body fluids or secretions, in keeping with prevailing hospital protocols”.
“I also remind our health staff to ensure proper disposal of hospital waste. I urge you to wash your hospital laundry thoroughly, boost your immunity by taking vitamins, and monitor yourselves for any signs and symptoms. Your health and safety is of paramount concern to the Department,” said Duque.
In the Senate, Senator Imee Marcos said the government must be ready to deal with months-long epidemic of the novel coronavirus.
She said the ferocity of the 2019-nCoV became evident Thursday, as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control recorded more than 7,800 cases of infection in January alone.
It took six months for the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic, which lasted from November 2002 to July 2003, to reach 5,000 cases of infection, according to a Johns Hopkins University report.
Marcos said the country’s limited capacity and reliance on foreign expertise to promptly detect the 2019-nCoV virus called for “stronger measures than just advisories on face masks, hand-washing, and prayers.”(STACY ANG/IAMIGO/CPH)