No confirmed case of nCoV – DOH

Published January 23, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Analou De Vera

The Department of Health (DOH) said that the Philippines still has no confirmed case of the 2019 novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) strain, pointing out that the suspected case involving a five-year-old boy from China is still being investigated.

VDr. Rolando Enrique Domingo (R), Undersecretary of the Department of Health (DOH) (REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco / MANILA BULLETIN)
Dr. Rolando Enrique Domingo (R), Undersecretary of the Department of Health (DOH)

“We have no confirmed case. Hindi natin alam kung free tayo [We don’t know if we’re free (of the 2019-nCoV)] but we don’t have a confirmed case,” Health Undersecretary Rolando Enrique Domingo told reporters at the DOH Central office in Manila Thursday afternoon.

Domingo said that the laboratory result that will confirm whether the child was infected with the new coronavirus is not yet available.

“The sample – it took sometime to coordinate with the transport of the biological samples – is now in Melbourne in Australia. Depending on the laboratory, we expect results within 24 to 48 hours. The earliest would probably be by tomorrow afternoon, (January 24), if not we’re going to get the result by Saturday (January 25),” said Domingo.

“The patient is still confined. The patient is having a mild cough but no fever. So far, the patient is doing well but we are not discharging the child because according to our protocol, if you are suspected of having this new Coronavirus – we only discharge the patient after testing negative,” he added.

Family of Chinese boy located

Domingo said that authorities have already located the supposed family members of a Chinese man who was reportedly infected with the 2019 nCoV.

“The Cebu Pacific has been very helpful and we’ve been working with the Bureau of Immigration and other airport authorities and the epidemiology bureau has already located and contacted the four family members and none of them are suffering from any illness,” said Domingo.

The health official said that there is no need to do any test or hold them in isolation.

“The advice is really for them to continue keeping in touch with us and we will be monitoring them. Kung may maramdaman o magkasakit sila then (if they experience any form of sickness) they will be contacting us but our epidemiology agents are contacting them regularly,” Domingo assured.

Domingo said that the country has only one suspicious case of nCoV –the five-year-old boy from China who arrived in Cebu City last January 12.

READ MORE: Guevarra: BI locates family of Chinese man infected with coronavirus

Taal Coronavirus screening

With the Coronavirus threat, Makabayan lawmakers underscored on Thursday the need for efficient health screening, surveillance, and monitoring against the new coronavirus in order to prevent relief workers from contracting it.

Worse, the 2019-nCoV could end up getting passed among evacuees of the Taal Volcano disaster if authorities aren’t careful.

“Dapat may mechanism in place at ready na kung sakaling makapasok at kumalat ang 2019 novel Coronavirus (We should have a ready mechanism in case the 2019 novel Coronavirus enters and spreads in the country),” Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said.

“Tulad sa disaster sa Taal (Like with the Taal disaster), we need adequate preparations and effective response and we hope that they are now in place. Bantayan lang din dapat mabuti ang screening ng sinuman na manggagaling sa infected areas maski relief workers dahil baka magkainfect pa sa evacuees (We should just impose proper screening on anyone who came from the infected areas, even the relief workers since they might infect the evacuees),” Gaite said.

READ MORE: Solons say coronavirus screening on Taal relief workers needed

Threat of spreading

Domingo said that health experts now deemed that the nCoV will continue to spread in other countries.

“Well, I think that the WHO’s (World Health Organization) position right now is that the virus is really going to spread. It has already gone to several countries,” said Domingo.

Aside from China where the virus likely originated, Domingo noted that cases of the new virus has already been documented in some countries like Thailand, Korea, Japan, “and there is a confirmed case in the US, which is even farther.”

Domingo said the WHO is not focusing on the “prevention of it getting in, but being ready to manage the cases once we identify them.”

“The strategy now of the WHO really is to make sure that when it does spread – and when it happens – we’re able to isolate and contain the cases and manage them well,” said Domingo.

“Dapat isipin natin na may darating para handa tayo; at pagdating nila, dapat magamot natin sila ng tama at ma-isolate natin para hindi lalong kumalat [We should always think that a confirmed case is imminent, so we’re ready. If it happens, we should be able to treat and isolate them properly to be able to stop it from spreading],” he added.

China locks down Wuhan

Domingo, meanwhile, welcomed the move of the Chinese government to close the city of Wuhan in a bid to stop the spread of nCoV.

China banned trains and planes from leaving Wuhan, a Chinese city at the center of a virus outbreak on Thursday, seeking to seal off its 11 million people to contain the contagious disease that has claimed 17 lives, infected hundreds and spread to other countries.

Authorities in Wuhan, a major transport hub, also suspended public buses and subways, and said residents should not leave “without a special reason”.

It was reported that all outbound flights and trains from the city have already been suspended.

“The city has closed itself, people are not allowed to go in and out of Wuhan which I think is very welcome and reassuring for all governments and for all different countries,” said Domingo.

“I think all countries welcomed this development from China,” he added.

Over 570 affected in China

More than 570 people have been infected with the virus across China — with most cases found in Wuhan, where a seafood market that illegally sold wild animals has been identified as the epicentre of the outbreak.

The Coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Like SARS, it can be passed among people through the respiratory tract.

Wuhan residents shared their anguish on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, with one describing being on the “verge of tears” when the de facto quarantine was announced.

“We are feeling as though it is the end of the world,” said another on Weibo, voicing concerns about shortages of food and disinfectant.

“We really need everyone’s help.”

Wuhan’s train station was almost empty except for workers and about a dozen people lining up for taxis, all of whom were wearing masks, according to an AFP reporter.

Strong action

The first case of the new virus was confirmed on December 31, and it has since been detected in Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States.

The WHO on Wednesday delayed a decision on whether to declare a global health emergency – a rare instrument used only for the worst outbreaks.

The emergency committee will meet again on Thursday, after its chair, Didier Houssin, said the experts were split over declaring a public health emergency.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “more information” was needed but he also praised China’s “very, very strong measures”.

“By having a strong action not only will they control the outbreak in their country but they will also minimise the chances of this outbreak spreading internationally,” Tedros said when asked about Wuhan’s transport shutdown.

Sealed off

With hundreds of millions of people travelling across China this week for the Lunar New Year holiday, the National Health Commission announced on Wednesday measures to curb the disease nationwide – including sterilization and ventilation at airports and bus stations, as well as inside planes and trains.

Wuhan’s special anti-virus command centre said the quarantine measures were meant to “effectively cut off the virus spread, resolutely curb the outbreak and guarantee the people’s health and safety,” according to state media.

While departures were banned, trains and planes were still allowed into the city.

On one inbound train, the few passengers aboard heading ahead of the Lunar New Year were wearing masks.

“I wanted to go home,” a 28-year-old man surnamed Fang on a train from Shanghai to Wuhan told AFP.

The city’s tourism and culture department cancelled all group tours until February 8, according to state media.

The city has also cancelled large public events for the Lunar New Year holiday, which starts Friday.

Authorities made it mandatory to wear a mask in public places in the city.

“Those who disregard the warning will be punished according to relevant laws and regulations,” the city government warned, according to state media.

Source of outbreak

Animals are suspected to be the primary source of the outbreak, with Chinese health officials saying that the virus originated from the market where wild animals were illegally sold.

Studies published this week suggest that the virus may have originated in bats or snakes.

The WHO has confirmed that the virus can be passed between people, at least those in close contact, and Chinese health officials said Wednesday it could mutate and spread further.

And authorities have conceded they do not yet know the full extent of the crisis.

“There are many unknowns to address in this event including clinical severity and the true extent and nature of disease transmission,” said Michael Ryan, head of the WHO’s health emergencies program.

Chinese authorities on Thursday reported dozens of new infections, bringing the confirmed total to 571. About 5,000 people remain under medical observation.

Countries have intensified efforts to stop the spread of the pathogen – known by its technical name 2019-nCoV.

Passengers are facing screening measures at five US airports and a host of transport hubs across Asia.

European airports from London to Moscow have also stepped up checks and Nigeria, which has many citizens working in China, said it would start checks at entry points.

In Australia, passengers on one of the last flights out of Wuhan said they were met by biosecurity officials who briefed them on the symptoms of the virus.

The Philippines’ Cebu Pacific has taken preventive measures and are closely monitoring the spread of the Wuhan virus.

It urged its passengers to take precautionary measures, including:

  • Frequent handwashing with soap and water
  • Using alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Using a face mask
  • Postponing air travel if feeling unwell. Health experts recommend that travelers stay home a minimum of 24 hours after a fever subsides

China ‘commendable’

Tedros, the WHO chief, on Wednesday indicated the situation was not escalating out of control, saying there was “stability” for the moment.

“We don’t see any significant variation but at the same time we also believe that we have to be cautious,” he said.

Tedros also praised China’s openness about the outbreak as “commendable”.

But a senior US State Department official said Washington was “still concerned”about transparency in the Chinese government.

During the SARS epidemic, the Chinese government took months to report the disease and initially denied WHO experts access to southern Guangdong province, where it originated. (With reports from Ellson A. Quismorio, Jeffrey G. Damicog, AFP, and Ariel Fernandez)

READ MORE: China locks down city at center of virus outbreak