Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said yesterday that the boy no longer has fever but was still coughing.
AFP/Nicolas Asfouri
Chinese boy in Cebu recovering
Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) is optimistic that the five-year-old Chinese boy in Cebu City, who tested positive for coronavirus, is not infected with the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) reported in China late last year.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said yesterday that the boy no longer has fever but was still coughing.

“The boy is in the process of recovering, so there is a possibility that this is not novel coronavirus... This is a good sign,” he noted.

But the final word will be issued by the DOH when the results of laboratory tests in Australia are known today.

Duque said they could not understand why the boy’s mother, who arrived with him in Cebu City on Jan. 12, was not manifesting any symptom of coronavirus. The two are from Wuhan City in Hubei province in China where 2019-nCoV was first detected.

The SARS-like viral disease was initially reported in Wuhan but cases have since been reported in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and the province of Guangdong.

South Korea, Japan, Thailand and the US have also reported cases of the disease, which was found in people who visited Wuhan. So far, around 400 people have been diagnosed with the virus.

The health secretary added that, despite the mother not showing any symptoms, she was also put in separate isolation at a Cebu hospital.

The DOH is expecting the results from a laboratory in Melbourne, Australia – from the blood and swab samples taken from the boy and his mother – to be out today.

The agency had also conducted contact tracing of the boy’s co-plane passengers within four seats around him and who are may also be showing symptoms.

Pending the results, Duque maintained they cannot just assume that the boy is really free from 2019-nCoV. 

“There are still many blind spots with regard to the novel coronavirus and the information streams continue... We really don’t know because the situation is very fluid,” he added.  

He underscored that, for one, it is not yet even known where the novel virus originated. 

The boy tested negative for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).  

However, he turned out positive for “non-specific pancoronavirus assay,” prompting the DOH to send specimens from the boy to Australia “to identify the specific coronavirus strain that he was infected with.”

The “non-specific pancoronavirus assay” is a screening tool to test the presence of a coronavirus in the body. Duque said there are seven strains of coronavirus so it is possible that the boy may be infected with 2019-nCoV or other coronavirus strains.

“The situation continues to evolve and you don’t know how this thing will turn out at each corner. So let’s be prudent,” he added. 

Duque has given assurance that the DOH will be vigilant in monitoring those coming from Wuhan City. 

“We have guidelines that have been proven and tested. So we abide by these guidelines,” he added.

As part of surveillance protocol, those coming from China who are manifesting fever and other symptoms of the coronavirus will be placed under quarantine. Duque maintained such travelers will be investigated until it has been established that they are not infected.

Heightened airport alert

Bureau of Quarantine (BoQ) personnel at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) intensified monitoring of all passengers arriving at the country’s main gateway.

Quarantine doctor on duty Geraldine Yangson said passengers coming from Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Guangzhou, Shenzen, Beijing, as well as Shanghai, which are the possible connecting routes from Wuhan, were strictly monitored.

Immigration supervisors Alexis Canonizado and Salve Corsega said their personnel are waiting for supplies of N95 masks from the main office.

In the meantime, the frontline immigration officers dealing with incoming passengers bought their own masks as protection from the virus. “N95 masks are now out of stock since the Taal Volcano eruption, so we’re using surgical masks for now,” Canonizado said.

Manila International Airport Authority general manager Ed Monreal said that his office distributed hand sanitizer dispensers around the NAIA terminals, especially at the immigration arrival area, which incoming passengers and airport employees can use.

The health official stressed that NAIA Terminal 1 has seven nurses and two doctors for every shift, while Terminals 2 and 3 have one doctor and five nurses for every shift.

“We need at least 50 additional health workers to augment our present force,” another doctor, who requested not to be identified, said.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), as the operator of most of the airports in the country, is working in coordination with the DOH and the BoQ to support its efforts in securing the airports from the coronavirus and is closely monitoring arriving passengers from China, especially at Kalibo International Airport, which has direct flights from Wuhan and other Chinese cities.?CAAP director general Jim Sydiongco has ordered the reactivation of communicable disease preparedness procedures in CAAP-operated international airports such as Puerto Princesa, General Santos, Zamboanga, Davao, Kalibo, Laoag and Iloilo.

The airports were also advised to exercise extreme vigilance in handling incoming passengers possibly infected by the new coronavirus.

Protocols are already in place at the airports where airport frontline personnel have been advised to wear face masks, maintain proper hygiene and practice regular handwashing. Posting of public advisories informing about coronavirus infections and the strict monitoring of suspected passengers are now also being enforced.

Meanwhile, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Archie Gamboa yesterday directed police commanders to assist in locating people manifesting  symptoms of 2019-nCoV.

Gamboa ordered the PNP Health Service, as well as their regional health offices, to assist the DOH in mitigating the spread of the virus.

“Help mitigate the possible effects and assist in case order is given to locate other persons identified by the DOH who possibly manifest flu-like symptoms and fit the description of the new virus,” he said in a statement.

CNY woes

Expecting an influx of Chinese nationals to the Philippines in time for the Chinese New Year this Saturday, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) has intensified its operation to ensure the country’s safety against 2019-nCoV. 

Immigration Port Operations division chief Grifton Medina said in an interview that they were told to take precautionary measures at all ports of entry, being the frontline service for incoming foreign nationals in the country. 

He said that the DOH and the BoQ met yesterday, along with some government agencies involved in the operation of the airports, to ensure that Chinese citizens coming in to the Philippines are strictly monitored.

As far as operations are concerned, Medina said that the BoQ and the DOH have set up the necessary instruments to detect the body temperature of foreign nationals coming in to the country.

The BI said that it has yet to receive orders as far as temporarily putting a halt to the entry of Chinese nationals. 

However, the DOH yesterday urged those who will be going to China this weekend for the celebration of the Chinese New Year to avoid Wuhan City.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros urged authorities to heighten preparation for the influx of more travelers from China but expressed confidence that government agencies involved in addressing the matter are doing their best to protect public health.

“I am confident that our Department of Health and Bureau of Quarantine are doing their best to protect public health,” Hontiveros said. “But I ask our authorities to heighten preparation for the influx of more travelers from China due to the Lunar New Year on Saturday.”

Hontiveros also reminded the public not to share unverified news so as not to sow panic.

Sen. Nancy Binay called on the DOH and other government agencies to prepare an emergency response plan and ensure that the government is fully equipped to address a possible outbreak of 2019-nCoV.

Binay filed Senate Resolution 293, which aims to determine appropriate measures and necessary funding requirements to ensure quick and efficient government response to address a possible outbreak.

“It might be best for the DOH to review the protocols in place and check if the necessary people are prepared to implement these if needed,” Binay said. – With Rudy Santos, Emmanuel Tupas, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Robertzon Ramirez

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