The Health department said Thursday that a 38-year-old Chinese woman was the first confirmed case of the 2019 novel coronavirus (nCoV), which has killed 170 people in China and infected more than 8,000.
In a news briefing, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the first confirmed case arrived in the Philippines from Wuhan, China, via Hong Kong on Jan. 21. She reportedly traveled to the cities of Cebu and Dumaguete.
He said the patient was admitted in one of the country’s government hospitals on Jan. 25 after experiencing mild cough. She is currently asymptomatic.
He said the patient’s laboratory results, which arrived from the Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia, was positive for the novel coronavirus.
The samples from the Chinese woman was among the six sent to Australia for testing earlier this week. The five others tested negative.
Duque said the succeeding tests for the novel coronavirus will now be done by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, as the DOH has already acquired the necessary test kit for the procedure. He said results may now be available within 24 hours of testing.
The Bureau of Quarantine, he said, was checking the patient’s flight details to trace the people with whom she might have come into contact.
Pidemiology Bureau chief Chito Avelino said that with the information they gathered from the laboratory results, they have asked 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 told the news briefing.
Avelino further said health authorities would also look at places where she stayed to determine people who had contact with the patient.
“For the community, we are looking the establishments where they stayed and advise the establishment owner to identify the employees that had been in contact with the patient and from there, to the mandatory quarantine to observe them if ever they will manifest any sign of symptoms of respiratory infection,” Avelino said.
Duque also said the DOH has recorded a total of 29 possible cases, 18 in Metro Manila, four in Central Visayas, three in Western Visayas, one in MIMAROPA, one in Eastern Visayas, one in Northern Mindanao, and one in Davao.
Twenty-three of the patients are currently admitted and five have been discharged but are still under strict monitoring. DOH also reported one patient mortality, a 29-year-old Chinese man who died of complications due to pneumonia Wednesday morning.
Duque assured the public that all necessary precautionary measures are being taken to halt the spread of the virus.
He said they were able to detect the first confirmed case because of their strong surveillance system, close coordination with WHO and other national agencies, and the use of DOH’s decision tool.
“We are working closely with the hospital where the patient is admitted and have activated the Incident Command System of the said hospital for appropriate management, specifically on infection control, case management, and containment,” Duque said, without naming the hospital.
He also said they are implementing measures to protect the staff providing care to these patients.
Duque said the Bureau of Quarantine remains on high alert and is in constant coordination with authorities from all ports of entry for stricter border surveillance.
He said the department’s health facilities are equipped and prepared to receive and care for patients suspected of having the nCoV virus.
“I urge the public to stay calm and remain vigilant at all times. Let us continue to practice good personal hygiene and adopt healthy lifestyles,” added Duque.
The WHO said symptoms of the new virus include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties.
To better protect the country from the virus, the Bureau of Immigration earlier suspended the issuance of visas upon arrival for Chinese nationals.
Meanwhile, Senator Joel Villanueva said employers should not hesitate to send home workers who show symptoms of the flu but continue to report to work and consider the occupational health and safety of their entire organization.
Senator Risa Hontiveros urged the government to immediately impose a travel ban on all individuals traveling from China, and all travelers who have passed through China in the past two weeks.
“My proposal is a temporary travel ban of at least 30 days in light of the first confirmed case of the novel virus,” she said.
“I also urge the Bureau of Quarantine to implement mandatory quarantine on all those who have just arrived from China, to remain vigilant and to study the safety measures of our neighboring countries with confirmed cases of nCoV,” she added.
In an interview with GMA News, a spokesman for the San Lazaro Hospital, Dr. Ferdinand de Guzman, said the facility has been receiving more referrals to screen patients based on the DOH nCoV checklist.
De Guzman also denied that lockdown was imposed on the hospital, saying that they only close the gates of the establishment and cordon the area when a patient for screening arrives.
The one patient that died is in a freezer, based on the instructions of the medical center’s chief and the infection control team, he said.
The House of Representatives on Thursday vowed to augment government funds intended for preventing the entry into the country or controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said all programs funded under the P4.1-trillion 2020 national budget “are priorities.”
“Health is a priority, housing is a priority, education is a priority, the Build, Build, Build program is a priority, so it is unavoidable that some may lack funds (in the process of implementation)…but so long as it is part of the budget, it can be augmented,” Cayetano said.
On Wednesday, upon the invitation of the House, Duque appeared before the chamber during its Question Hour to inform the nation of the measures the government is taking to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.
In related developments:
* • help prevent the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus. In a circular, CBCP secretary-general Fr. Marvin Mejia said communions must be placed on the hands instead of putting it in the mouths of churchgoers. Mejia also ordered churches to always ensure that the holy water in their stoups is clean.
• Flag carrier Philippine Airlines announced on Thursday it has stopped operating inbound flights in Kalibo International Airport in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak. PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna said beginning last Monday, they stopped operating inbound Kalibo flights. She said that all outbound flights were operated this week so that Chinese nationals can return to their homeland. PAL also said it is adjusting its flights to China due to concerns about the virus.
• A Manila school has started using thermometers in all entry points due to the 2019-novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) scare which hit the country recently. According to the statement made by the Public Information Office (PIO) of the City Government of Manila, the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) has started deploying inspectors with infrared thermometers at all entry points to check on students, employees and visitors.