By Argyll Geducos and AFP
Eleven foreign nationals in the Philippines are under investigation after showing symptoms of the deadly 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
The Philippine Department of Health (DOH) revealed this on Monday as the death toll from China’s viral epidemic spiked to 80 dead with hundreds of new infections despite unprecedented quarantines and travel lockdowns – as foreign governments scrambling to help their trapped citizens.
In a press briefing in Malacañang, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the 11 patients under investigation (PUIs) were Chinese nationals, Americans, Germans, and Brazilians.
He said three of the foreigners were in Western Visayas, three in Central Visayas, two in Metro Manila, one each in Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan), Eastern Visayas, and Northern Mindanao.
According to Duque, there was no reason for the public to avoid going to the places where the PUIs were from, saying the patients were isolated and have already moved to other places.
“There shouldn’t be any cause of alarm just because we flashed the areas where the PUIs come from… doesn’t mean those areas are affected. There’s none,” Duque said Monday.
“PUIs are all isolated now. They’re not in those areas at the moment. There shouldn’t be any cause for alarm,” he added.
PH still free from virus
Duque also belied rumors circulating in social media that there were already two confirmed cases of the 2019-nCoV in Metro Manila, particularly in Binondo and in Alabang.
The Manila Health Department (MHD) debunked rumors that there is a novel coronavirus case involving a Chinese national at the Metropolitan Hospital in Binondo.
MHD Officer Dr. Arnold Pangan said the 27-year-old Chinese national confined at the hospital is diagnosed with community-acquired pneumonia, not nCoV.
The patient is a native of Obei, China, and works at a Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO). He reportedly lives somewhere in the boundary of Pasay and Parañaque, the MHD officer said.
Pangan said the POGO worker was hospitalized on January 25, 2020 due to fever and cough, but is already well.
Duque said people should stop propagating false information or unconfirmed reports they see on social media, saying the spread of fake news is more dangerous. He insisted that there are still no confirmed case of the 2019-nCoV in the Philippines.
“Don’t be part of an ‘infodemic.’ ’Wag po tayong mangamba. Maniwala po tayo sa ating Department of Health (Let us not be alarmed. Let’s trust our Department of Health),” Duque appealed.
“’Wag maniniwala sa mga nababasa sa social media. Maging mapanuri po tayo. Hindi po lahat ng nababasa natin (Let’s not believe everything we see in social media. Let’s be discerning. Not everything we read) we absorb and we start propagating these false news. This could be more endangering. The viral spread of false news can cause more societal injury,” he added.
He likewise said the rumors about the cases of the 2019-nCoV were not true since the DOH currently has no capability to determine or confirm if a patient is positive for the virus.
Duque explained that if a patient tests positive for the pan coronavirus, their samples would be sent to the Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) in Melbourne, Australia and the result can be expected in 24 hours.
The virulence of a contagion causing fear nationwide has prompted authorities to impose transport curbs around China to cut off transmission routes, and extend a national holiday to delay people travelling back to work.
With many thousands of foreigners trapped in the ground-zero city of Wuhan, which is under a virtual lockdown, the United States and France were among several countries formulating plans to evacuate their citizens by plane.
In the Philippines, the government is keeping a tight watch on foreign tourists and returning Filipinos to make sure that the deadly 2019-nCoV that originated in Wuhan would not spread in the country, neophyte Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go said Monday.
“Our medical workers and officials are keeping a tight watch to ensure that the virus will be barred from entering the country. We have placed 40 thermal scanners in our airports nationwide,” said Go, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health.
With the coronavirus also expanding globally, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus headed to Beijing to meet with government officials on the crisis.
“My WHO colleagues and I would like to understand the latest developments and strengthen our partnership with China in providing further protection against the outbreak,” he said on Twitter.
Tedros last week stopped short of declaring the outbreak an international public health emergency, which would have prompted more concerted international action including possible trade or travel restrictions.
Cases have been reported as far afield as France, the United States and Canada, with various countries in Asia also detecting cases. Those infected had previously been in China.
The new additions to China’s death toll came entirely from the epicenter province of Hubei, which on Monday reported 24 fresh fatalities.
Most fatalities and overall cases have been in Hubei, and the government says the deaths have largely been elderly or people already weakened by pre-existing health conditions.
Thousands of cases
But China’s National Health Commission said on Monday that in addition to 2,744 confirmed infections nationwide – an increase of 769 – there were nearly 6,000 suspected cases and more than 30,000 people under medical observation.
In a bid to curb the spread of the 2019-nCoV, all levels of financial departments in China have allocated a total of 11.21 billion yuan (about USD1.63 billion as of Sunday, according to the Ministry of Finance (MOF).
The funds allocated were mainly used for the medical treatment and procurement of medical equipment and epidemic control materials, the MOF said in an online statement.
China will step up efforts to ensure adequate funding support for epidemic prevention and control, it added.
Hardest-hit has been Hubei’s capital Wuhan, where the virus is suspected to have come from animals in a market selling a wide range of exotic wild game.
Wuhan has been under virtual lockdown for days, with transport halted and citizens told to stay at home.
The national government decided it would extend the Lunar New Year holiday and related school closures beyond the original January 30 end date to “reduce population flows,” state media reported.
The holiday was extended to February 2.
Several cities responded, with new school terms delayed in Beijing until further notice, and Shanghai postponing until February 17.
In the Philippines, Duque said there was no need for schools to suspend their classes after some Chinese schools in the country suspended their classes as a precautionary measure against the 2019-nCoV scare.
“It’s not within our guidelines, the suspension of classes, at this point. There is no communication from the WHO (World Health Organization). I really do not know, we will try to find out [their reasons],” he said.
“No need to suspend classes as of now. There is no indication,” he added.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones, who was also in the same press briefing, said that while private schools have the autonomy to decide on their classes, they should first consult with the DOH.
Duque likewise reminded the public about taking care of themselves to avoid getting the virus.
He advised about hand hygiene, proper coughing etiquette, consuming enough water, cooking food thoroughly, and immediate consultation when experiencing the symptoms of the virus.
Duque, likewise, urged the public to avoid contact with those showing symptoms, farm animals, shaking hands, brushing cheeks or “beso-beso,” and even fist bumps.
He also discouraged the public from eating raw meats, including rats, lizards, and other exotic animals.
Symptoms of the virus include fever; flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and headaches; and difficult breathing in some cases. Incubation for the 2019-nCoV is between 10 to 14 days.
According to Duque, there are four kinds of exposures to the 2019-nCoV: 1. direct contact of a confirmed case; 2. interaction with health professional in a facility taking care of confirmed case; 3. visiting ground zero or epicenter of the virus; and 4. any contact with a live animal. (With reports from Minka Klaudia S. Tiangco, Mario B. Casayuran, and Xinhua)