Hundreds of Filipino crew members of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)-stricken cruise ship Diamond Princess
in Japan fly home today for 14 days of quarantine in New Clark City, Tarlac, yet another grim reminder that we cannot afford to let our guard down.
With 52 of the more than 500 Filipino crew members testing positive for the deadly COVID-19, it has become apparent that even the Japanese, normally known for their efficiency and advanced technology, committed grave errors in their quarantine process that increased the risk of major outbreaks in other countries outside China, where it has already killed more than 2,400 people and infected close to 77,000 others, despite draconian lockdowns in Hubei province.
In the Philippines, a decline in the number of new suspected cases may lead to complacency, which we can ill afford.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to soar in South Korea, for example. The total has reached 556 with five deaths, according to the country’s leading media agency Yonhap News. The potentially fatal illness has been identified in many regions, including South Korea’s 17 major provinces and cities, the report said.
On Friday, the government declared Daegu—epicenter of the Korean outbreak—and its adjacent county Cheongdo as “special care zones” and Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun has called the situation “grave.”
The death toll in Iran climbed to six, the highest outside China, and a dozen towns in northern Italy effectively went into lockdown as authorities tested hundreds of people who came into contact with an estimated 79 confirmed cases there. Two people have died in Italy.
Given this situation, health authorities here must tread the line between counterproductive panic and dangerous complacency.
Perhaps in an effort to calm fears and play down the risks of the new disease, some experts have suggested that we should be more concerned with tuberculosis, since it can be easily transmitted and was the eighth leading cause of mortality, with a rate of 25 deaths for every 100,000 population in 2017. In contrast, only one person—a Chinese national from Wuhan—has died of COVID-19 in the Philippines.
This view is hardly reassuring, however, since there are already proven medicines to treat TB while no such drugs exist as yet for COVID-19. Furthermore, the rapid spread of the disease in China and the pocket outbreaks elsewhere in the world are truly a cause for concern.
Fear of the unknown is a powerful emotion that can be dispelled only by accurate information.
As our health officials deal with arriving repatriates from the Diamond Princess
, it is crucial that they appreciate the key lessons from the failed quarantine effort in Yokohama, Japan, that made the cruise liner the second-biggest concentration of COVID-19 anywhere in the world.