Big hospitals in the country are not allowed to turn away patients who are showing symptoms of the deadly novel coronavirus (nCoV), the Department of Health said Friday.
This developed as Malacañang sought to allay public fears, saying that San Lazaro Hospital in Sta. Cruz, Manila, which is treating the country’s first case of nCoV, is fully equipped and prepared to handle such cases.
The hospitals “are being reminded that they can’t turn away patients because of suspected nCoV... they have to treat them and manage them within the facility,” Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said at a press briefing.
As a requirement of the DOH, hospitals with Level 2 or Level 3 licenses “must have the capacity for isolation and treatment of infectious diseases,” Domingo added.
Meanwhile, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said the Chinese Embassy is maintaining “close cooperation with the DOH to obtain more relevant information and assist the Philippines in the prevention and control of the epidemic.”
Huang assured that the Chinese government is taking the most comprehensive and “strictest” measures against 2019-nCoV in China.
“Compared with any epidemic in the past, I think we have taken the strictest measures some of which even go beyond the requirement of the World Health Organization [WHO],” Huang said in press conference.
He also announced that the Philippine Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., a group of Filipino-Chinese businessmen, will donate 600,000 face masks to the public.
“We believe China and the Philippines [have] come through thick and thin. We will continue to go hand in hand to overcome the difficulties and we are very confident to bring our people back on track [at] an early date,” Huang said.
The Palace statement came a day after Health Secretary Francisco Duque III confirmed a 38-year-old Chinese woman who arrived in the Philippines on Jan. 21 from Wuhan City, China, tested positive for nCoV.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said there is “no way” the Chinese woman can infect another person in the country.
“The Chinese woman afflicted with the dreadful illness came from Wuhan, flew to Hong Kong, then to Cebu, then to Dumaguete and finally landed in NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport). She is… confined at San Lazaro,” Panelo said.
“Per DOH Secretary Duque, the patient is being treated and isolated. There is no way that she will transmit the disease to another person as the hospital personnel are protectively dressed and their mouths and noses covered with surgical masks plus their hands covered with gloves,” he added.
Laboratory results from the Victorian Infectious Disease Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia showed the woman is positive for the new strain of coronavirus.
The patient is currently asymptomatic, meaning she is infected with nCoV but shows no symptoms.
Panelo said the first case of novel coronavirus raises “serious” health and safety concerns.
“The DOH has been instructed by the President to commence the protocols it has prepared for such an eventuality to contain the disease and neutralize its transmission and spread,” Panelo said.
The nCoV that originated in Wuhan, China has killed over 200 people and infected more than 9,000 others in China.
The deadly virus has also spread to other countries, prompting the World Health Organization to declare the outbreak of the new infectious virus as a “public health emergency of international concern.”
Earlier Friday, Senator Christopher Lawrence Go said the President approved the recommendation to impose a temporary ban on travelers from Wuhan and the entire Hubei province in China.
Go said Duterte is also eyeing expanding the coverage of temporary travel ban order by including coronavirus-hit countries. With PNA
Panelo said the temporary ban stays until the threat of novel coronavirus is over.
“The safety of our countrymen is foremost in the President’s mind,” he said.
“The DOH assures us that every measure is being undertaken to contain the spread of the dreadful virus as well as monitoring and placing in quarantine those showing of symptoms of having nCoV,” Panelo added.
Panelo asked the public to follow the advice of the DOH to avert the spread of nCoV.
READ: Public warned: No cure for n-CoV; only hygiene
“Observe personal hygiene as a preventive measure like regularly washing one’s hands and wearing surgical masks (when) going around crowded areas,” he said.
Meanwhile, Domingo urged the public to refrain from buying and using N95 face masks and just leave them to health workers who are at the frontline of efforts to contain the virus.
“We ask the public to be very, very judicious in the use of these materials,” said Domingo.
He said the N95 mask must be reserved for health workers who are actually handling cases, either patients under investigation or confirmed positive cases.
He said health workers are the ones who really need the N95 masks, which can better block small airborne particles as compared to surgical masks.
Thousands of people on Friday were engaged in panic buying of face masks from dozens
of stores and even from street vendors, after the DOH announced the first confirmed case in the Philippines.
In Facebook posts, videos showed people lined up at stores to buy masks for about P180 to P200. Some shops said all their face masks were sold out.
As of noon Friday, Domingo said there were two additional possible cases, bringing the total to 31 patients who are being tested and monitored.
Meanwhile, Duque also said the virus thrives easier in areas with low temperature and low humidity.
In a tropical country like the Philippines, the novel coronavirus is relatively easier to control, Duque said.
Dr. Rey Salinel, an infectious disease specialist, also shared the same view.
The World Health Organization encourages people to protect themselves by:
• Frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
• When coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue―throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands
• Avoid close contact with anyone who has fever and cough
• If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider
• When visiting live markets in areas currently experiencing cases of novel coronavirus, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals, and
• The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.
In related developments:
• The DOH will not recommend the suspension of classes around San Lazaro Hospital in light of the nCoV scare, with Duque saying the move would be “too extreme.”
• The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board ordered all public utility vehicle drivers and conductors, and terminal operators to wear face masks as a safety precaution. In a memo, the LTFRB also ordered all terminal operators to ensure proper sanitation and cleanliness on their premises. Operators must provide free face masks and make disinfectant or sanitizer dispensers available to passsengers, the agency said.
• Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta on Friday encouraged court personnel to wear masks inside courtrooms, halls of justices and judiciary buildings, in the interest of public health,
• Baguio City has canceled the opening parade of the annual Panagbenga flower festival this weekend, as Mayor Benjamin Magalong said he would also disallow all events that will draw crowds and visitors to the country’s summer capital in the next three weeks.
• Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza urged the public to remain calm, saying the country has a good track record of controlling the spread of such diseases as evidenced by the country’s experience during the SARS outbreak.
• The Makati City government on Friday urged owners and operators of business establishments in the city to implement preventive measures. The Makati Health Department also asked hospital administrators to strictly comply with waste disposal regulations and use separate trash bins for biohazard waste to prevent contamination. The MHD reminded residents to wear masks, cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and wash their hands regularly with soap and clean water.
• The Manila Health Department is now on alert after receiving news that the country’s first case of nCoV had been confirmed. The department said it has dispatched medical teams to conduct contact tracing based on areas where the unnamed Chinese female patient had passed and persons she may have come in contact with.
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