As the number of patients under investigation continued to fall, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Tuesday they intend to buy the first approved antiviral drug to treat the new coronavirus.
“Yes, once it has been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration,” Duque said in a text message in response to the query about the Department of Health’s plan to procure the drug.
He said the FDA will get the clinical trials and studies done on the Fivalivir, developed by a Chinese pharmaceutical company, as an antiviral agent.
China announced Sunday that Favilavir, which has shown efficacy in treating the novel coronavirus, was approved for marketing.
The National Medical Products Administration, China’s regulatory body, approved the drug developed by Zhejiang Hisun Pharmaceutical Company.
READ: DOH keeps an eye on 24 patients for nCoV signs
A report by China Daily said the Favilavir was one of three drugs that showed significant efficacy in clinical trials.
Favilavir was put into production on Sunday, according to the report.
Scientists from the United States to Australia, meanwhile, are using new technology to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease called COVID-19.
In the United Kingdom, a team of scientists said they are one of the first to start animal testing of a vaccine for the virus.
The DOH reported Tuesday that 40 more patients under investigation have been tested negative for COVID-19, bringing the total number of patients discharged from hospital at 387.
Some 137 remain admitted in hospitals.
Three individuals, all Chinese nationals, tested positive for the viral infection, one died on Feb. 1, while the other two have recovered and have been discharged.
The Department of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday said eight more Filipinos aboard the quarantined cruise ship M/V Diamond Princess in Yokohama, Japan, tested positive for the novel coronavirus or COVID-19, bringing the total number of Filipinos with the virus to 35.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido Dulay said the new cases did not show the symptoms of the virus.
All the cases are being treated at Japanese hospitals, the DFA said.
“I can confirm that as of today, eight more have been infected and taken by Japanese health authorities to their quarantine facilities,” Dulay said.
READ: Nations take drastic steps to rim spreadREAD: Public warned: No cure for n-CoV; only hygiene
He said the embassy in Tokyo is in touch with the Filipinos as well as the Japanese Health Ministry.
The Department of Health earlier said they are already ironing out the details of an evacuation of the Filipino crew members and passengers on the cruise ship.
About 3, 700 people had been confined on the ship since it docked off the Yokohama port, including 538 Filipinos, 531 of whom are crew members.
The Japanese Health Ministry imposed the quarantine after it discovered that a man who disembarked in Hong Kong on Jan. 25 had tested positive for the coronavirus.
An additional 88 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the Japanese health ministry said Tuesday.
The new cases came from a total of 681 fresh results, the ministry said, taking the total number of positive cases on the Diamond Princess to 542.
All passengers and crew on board the ship have now been tested, the government said Tuesday as more governments moved to evacuate their citizens from the boat.
South Korea became the latest to announce it would remove its citizens from the Diamond Princess, where more than 400 people have tested positive for COVID-19.
Japan has faced criticism for its handling of the situation, with dozens of new infections detected almost daily since the ship arrived in early February.
But it has defended its approach and Health Minister Katsunobu Kato insisted again Tuesday that passengers who tested negative will be allowed to leave the ship from Wednesday.
“We have done tests for everyone [on the ship],” he told reporters.
“Some results have already come out... and for those whose test results are already clear, we are working to prepare disembarkation from the 19th,” he said.
Kato said the process would last two or three days.
But those who had close contact with people who have tested positive will have their quarantine reset to the date of their last contact with an infected person.
Crew are also expected to remain to observe another quarantine period after the last passengers leave the ship.
So far, the United States, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and now South Korea have said they will evacuate their citizens from the ship.
South Korea will send a presidential aircraft on Tuesday to fly back four nationals and one Japanese spouse, an official told reporters.
There are 14 South Koreans on board in total, but the other 10 have declined to be evacuated from the ship because they live in Japan, the Yonhap news agency reported.
Early Monday, more than 300 Americans were evacuated from the ship, among them over a dozen who have tested positive for the virus.
The Americans, like citizens from other countries being evacuated from ship, will have to undergo another 14-day quarantine.
Canada said Tuesday it had “secured a chartered flight to repatriate Canadians on board the Diamond Princess” but gave no details on when the process would take place.
There were 256 Canadians on board the ship, with 32 so far testing positive for the virus.
While foreign governments have couched their decision to remove citizens as an attempt to reduce the burden on Japanese authorities, many have interpreted the evacuations as criticism of Tokyo’s handling of the situation.
The US and Australia have told citizens that if they decline repatriation and an additional 14-day quarantine, they will not be allowed home for at least two weeks, suggesting they do not believe the ship-based quarantine has worked.
At least 454 people on the ship have so far tested positive for the virus and been removed to local hospitals for treatment.
Japan has also confirmed at least 65 cases domestically, including many involving people with no history of recent travel to China.
Authorities have said the virus is being transmitted locally now, and have asked citizens to avoid crowds and non-essential gatherings.
On Monday, the amateur portion of the Tokyo Marathon, which had been expected to attract some 38,000 runners, was canceled. Only elite athletes will now be able to take part.
The public celebration for Emperor Naruhito’s birthday has also been scrapped over virus fears.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said Monday church activities will continue despite virus fears.
“This coming Holy Week, there is no need to cancel masses and other activities for the season as we have implemented several measures,” said CBCP vice president, Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, in an interview over Church-run Radio Veritas.
Instead of marking foreheads with a cross using ashes on Ash Wednesday, David said they recommended that these will only be sprinkled over their heads.
Ash Wednesday, which falls on Feb. 26 this year, marks the start of the 40-day Lenten season.
Churches were advised not to put holy water at their entrances. The faithful can just wait for the priests to sprinkle holy water.
Earlier, the Diocese of Hong Kong and the Archdiocese of Singapore suspended church activities such as the holding of Mass due to the threat of COVID-19.
Earlier, the CBCP ordered priests to hand out communion wafers instead of placing them into the mouths of worshippers.
It also discouraged the faithful from holding hands while singing “Our Father” and shaking hands during the sign of peace. With AFPREAD: Exit from virus ship underway
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