By Roy Mabasa, Analou De Vera, Minka Klaudia Tiangco, Martin Sadongdong, Betheena Kae Unite, Jeffrey Damicog, Genalyn Kabiling, Argyll Cyrus Geducos, Reuters, and Aaron Recuenco
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) successfully brought back to the country on Sunday 32 Filipinos, including two Philippine consulate staff in China, from Wuhan City, ground zero of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Acute Respiratory Disease (2019-nCoV ARD).
The chartered plane landed at around 7 a.m. at the Haribon Hangar in Clark Air Base with 29 adults and one infant.
They were accompanied by a 10- member team from the Philippines which included two members from the Philippine Consulate General in Shanghai, three members from the DFA Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs (OUMWA), and five medical team members from the Department of Health (DOH).
Upon arrival, the repatriates were safely and swiftly transferred from the plane into their dedicated buses and brought to the Athlete’s Village in New Clark City (NCC) in Tarlac which will be their home for the 14-day quarantine period.
China raised the death toll from the coronavirus epidemic to 811 on Sunday, passing the number killed globally by the SARS epidemic in 2002/2003.
The repatriates did not exhibit any flu-like symptoms when they arrived on Sunday, the DOH said.
“All 32 repatriates landed safely and free of any signs and symptoms, hence, they were all sent to New Clark City for close observation and monitoring for 14 days,” the DOH said in a statement.
The DOH said that the repatriates had undergone three levels of screening. The agency said that before they boarded the plane, the repatriates were screened to determine if they are symptomatic (have fever, cough, and colds) or asymptomatic (do not have any signs or symptoms).
During the flight, the repatriates were closely monitored for the occurrence of any signs and symptoms. Upon landing, they were again assessed if they developed signs and symptoms.
The DOH assured that the repatriates are well-accommodated and closely monitored, and all basic necessities were provided – including hygiene kits and meals. The quarantine procedure is in coordination with the Bases Conversion and Development Authority and the Provincial Government of Tarlac, the DOH said.
The DOH assured that the repatriates will be regularly monitored by medical personnel “to ensure their health and safety.”
“If an individual, during his/her stay in the quarantine facility, suddenly shows signs and symptoms, the DOH had deployed medical teams to immediately assess and facilitate transfer to hospital for close monitoring,” the health department said.
“The DOH will be taking charge of the management, coordination, and logistics of the entire quarantine process. Rest assured that repatriated OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) will be attended to and treated with utmost care,” it added.
Meanwhile, the Code Blue Alert, which requires half of all hospital personnel to report for duty in order to provide medical assistance and services, has been raised in all hospitals under the DOH-Central Luzon Center for Health Development.
The DFA has expressed readiness to arrange another repatriation flight for Filipinos in China’s Hubei province amid the continued spread of the 2019 -novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD).
“Tayo po ay handa naman na magsagawa ng isa pang repatriation flight para po doon sa iba [We are ready to organize another repatriation flight for the others (who wish to come home)],” said Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido Dulay in a press briefing Saturday.
On January 28, the DFA made an initial call for the repatriation of Filipino nationals through the facilitation of the Philippine Consulate General in Shanghai which has jurisdiction over Wuhan city in Hubei province.
The DFA disclosed that two of its representatives from the Consulate General in Shanghai had to hurdle several border provinces’ clearances along their arduous two-day land travel to Wuhan City to be able to coordinate with the Filipino community and the Foreign Affairs Office in Hubei Province.
Access to Internet
Filipino repatriates from Wuhan City in Hubei Province, China, will have access to their mobile phones, television, and even the Internet, a health official said Saturday.
Health Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo had set up an environment for them that would not restrict their moves.
“The cellphone privileges will be allowed and Internet connection will be installed in the facility. They will be allowed to use their cellphones. They will be allowed to use that primarily to contact their family,” Bayugo said during a press briefing in Clark late Saturday.
“Food will be served to them on a table along an alley. They will be instructed to get there when the food is ready. They will be also provided the opportunity to breathe fresh air. By schedule, they can go out to enjoy the view of the NCC,” Bayugo said.
Aside from television and access to the Internet, they will also be given books and newspaper to read every day.
“After three days, the mental health team from our team in Mariveles will go there and assess if they have mental health needs or support that we need to provide,” Bayugo said.
“We will make sure that their wastes will be disposed of. It’s like what we do in our hospitals. Wala pong risk ng contamination outside. Alam naman natin sa hospitals may mga infectious materials, and we are able to manage and dispose of them properly,” Bayugo assured.
Health personnel will take turns in manning the quarantine facility. A separate building inside the athlete’s village has been assigned for the health personnel.
V. Luna Hospital
Several patients were admitted at the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Medical Center (V. Luna General Hospital) in Quezon City for possible cases of the 2019-nCoV ARD, a military health official revealed on Sunday.
Captain Sherwin Joseph Sarmiento, spokesman of the Health Service Command of the AFP-Public Affairs Office (PAO), confirmed that they were keeping an eye on an undisclosed number of persons under monitoring (PUM) and persons under investigation (PUI) isolated at the infection ward of the military healthcare facility.
Sarmiento refused to divulge the exact number of PUMs and PUIs being assessed citing the principle of confidentiality and data privacy.
“Ang mga PUM po, sila po ang mga taong may history ng travel doon sa mga bansa na sinabi ng Department of Health – China, Hong Kong, at Macau (The PUMs are those with travel history to China, Hong Kong, and Macau as advised by the DOH),” Sarmiento said.
“Ang mga PUI naman po ay mga pasyente na nagkaroon ng travel history at the same time, may mga sintomas tulad ng ubo, sipon, lagnat, pananakit ng lalamunan, at hirap sa paghinga (The PUIs, on the other hand, are patients who have a travel history there and at the same time, were exhibiting symptoms like cough, colds, fever, throat irritation, and difficulty in breathing),” he added.
Sarmiento, who is a doctor, allayed fears by other patients admitted at V. Luna Hospital since the PUMs and PUIs were quarantined in a building separate from the main hospital.
Hot, humid climates
The World Health Organization (WHO) Philippines warned that the 2019-nCoV can survive in both hot and humid climates.
“Wherever you live, whatever the climate is, it is important to follow precautions,” it said. Aside from this, WHO Philippines also debunked claims that the drinking of water and alcoholic beverages protect people from the 2019-nCoV virus.
“Drinking alcohol does not protect you from 2019-nCoV infection,” WHO Philippines added.
Gov’t to shoulder medical expenses
The government is expected to shoulder the medical expenses such as laboratory tests and quarantine of patients under investigation (PUIs) for the new coronavirus in public hospitals and other state facilities, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
For people seeking laboratory testing for the new coronavirus in public hospitals, Panelo maintained that the fees will be paid by the government. Those who get consultation in private hospitals, on the other hand, may have to pay for the corresponding fees.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) has deployed several policemen near the New Clark City in Tarlac amid threat of protest actions by local residents for turning the area into a quarantine site for repatriated Filipinos from Hubei province of China.
PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa appealed for understanding on the government’s decision, saying this is the time that every Filipino should help each other to defeat the nCoV.
“Remember that those who would be quarantined are also Filipinos. Efforts have been made by fellow Filipinos from the government, despite the risks, to rescue them in China and bring them back home,” said Gamboa.
Panelo assured the local government of Capas, Tarlac, that the virus will not spread in their area as the DOH is implementing the strictest protocol.
China to stagger back to work
Struggling to contain the spread of the disease, authorities had told businesses to tack up to 10 extra days onto holidays that had been due to finish at the end of January as the rising numbers of dead and infected cast a pall over the country.
Many of China’s usually teeming cities have almost become ghost towns during the past two weeks, as the Communist Party rulers ordered virtual lockdowns, cancelled flights, closed factories and kept schools shut.
The sight of an economy regarded as a workshop to the world laid so low has also taken a toll on international financial markets, as shares slumped and investors switched into safe-havens like gold, bonds and the Japanese yen.
Even on Monday, a large number of workplaces will remain closed and many white-collar workers will continue to work from home.
An American hospitalized in the central city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began, became the first confirmed non-Chinese victim of the disease. A Japanese man who also died there was another suspected victim.
The total of confirmed coronavirus cases in China stood at 37,198 cases, the commission data showed.