By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
The World Health Organization (WHO) said it is satisfied with how the Philippine government is responding to the threat of the 2019-novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD), saying it will continue to assist the country to better manage cases of the disease.
In a press briefing in Malacañang, WHO Philippines Representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe commended the actions taken by the Philippine government to strengthen its preparations and to build its capacity to detect cases.
“I believe that the Philippine government has been responding to an evolving situation. As I mentioned, this is a new situation, an evolving situation, and with the emergence of disease and the emergence of more information, the government response has been proactively strengthened,” he said.
“We are satisfied so far with the measures implemented by the government of the Philippines. And we are continuing to work with them to increase their preparedness in case there are further importations or there is evidence of local transmission.”
President Duterte on Sunday ordered the entry ban of all nationalities, except Filipinos and Permanent Resident Visa holders, to the Philippines traveling from China, Hong Kong, and Macau.
However, the government has been criticized because of its late implementation of the travel ban since it was made only after the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed the first case of the illness.
On Sunday, the DOH confirmed that another patient tested positive for the virus and that this patient had already died. This was the first nCoV-related death reported outside China.
Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said in the same press briefing that the government was not late in its response and that its decisions were methodical.
“It’s not late. In fact, very timely ang decision ng gobyerno (The government’s decision was very timely). Again, we follow also the directives and also the recommendation from the World Health Organization, the Department of Health,” he said.
Bureau of Immigration (BI) Spokesperson Dana Sandoval likewise said the government’s response was not belated, adding that the BI also made enough actions to contain the virus.
However, she said the BI cannot implement policy changes regarding the travel ban since they are following orders from the Office of the President based on recommendations by the DOH and the WHO.
“Naka-angkla po tayo (We are relying) on the recommendations of the World Health Organization. Ang ating (Our) Department of Health is equipped in assessing the situation and the needs of our country kung kailangan po natin ng travel ban (if we need to implement a travel ban),” she said.
According to the WHO, there have been more than 17,000 confirmed cases of the virus. The vast majority of the cases are from China. The outbreak has also resulted in the death of 362 people, all of them coming from China except the one death which happened on Saturday in the Philippines.
Preparations for an outbreak
Meanwhile, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) said they were already preparing for the possible spread of the virus in the country.
In the same press briefing, RITM Director Celia Carlos said the RITM started to procure huge amounts of personal protective equipment from local and international sources in anticipation of a possible outbreak of the 2019-nCoV ARD.
She added that the RITM is also exerting a huge amount of effort to identify the people who may possibly transmit the disease.
“You identify all the possible contacts of that patient, you assess their health condition, you treat them or quarantine them if necessary,” Carlos said.
“Those are really very huge measures being undertaken to avoid the transition of the country from simple containment to mitigation. Hopefully we won’t reach that particular stage.”
Carlos also said the RITM has a surge capacity plan for trainings for five sub-national laboratories to be able to do the confirmatory tests for the virus.
“We have that plan and in the last command conference of the DOH, there were already measures laid out on how they can be provided capacity to do the test,” she said.
Abeyasinghe, on the other hand, expressed confidence that the spread of the dreaded virus can be controlled.
“We remain confident that the outbreak can be controlled and we can prevent expanded spread of this disease,” he said.