Philippines now denying visas to Wuhan tourists

Robertzon Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Philippines now denying visas to Wuhan tourists
The decision to deny VUA for tourists from Wuhan came after the Civil Aeronautics Board suspended all direct flights from the city to the Philippines, BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval said yesterday.
AFP / Leo Ramirez

MANILA, Philippines — The Bureau of Immigration (BI) has started denying applications for visa-upon-arrival (VUA) by tour groups from Wuhan City, China due to risks posed by the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). 

The decision to deny VUA for tourists from Wuhan came after the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) suspended all direct flights from the city to the Philippines, BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval said yesterday. 

The BI launched the VUA program in 2017 to attract more tourists and investors from China. 

Before the flight suspension, the BI recorded 1,122 tourist arrivals and 901 departures on board Pan Pacific Airlines and 637 and 750 arrivals and departures, respectively on Royal Air from Dec. 1 to 31.

A total of 2,164 arrivals and 1,741 departures on Pan Pacific Airlines and 848 arrivals and 567 departures on Royal Air were recorded from Jan. 1 to 24.

Authorities are intensifying efforts to prevent the 2019-nCOV from entering the country.

 Reagents, primer

The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) is acquiring reagents and the primer of the virus to be used in conducting confirmatory tests on suspected cases, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said yesterday.

This developed as the Department of Health (DOH) submitted to the Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia the oropharyngeal and serum specimens collected from a from a five-year-old Chinese boy in Cebu City suspected of having 2019-nCoV.

Duque said he instructed RITM director Celia Carlos to look for the reagents and the primer as part of the measures being undertaken by the DOH to prepare for the possible entry of 2019-nCoV.

He gave assurance that by having the reagents and the primer, the RITM would no longer have to send samples of a person tested positive for coronavirus to a laboratory abroad for confirmatory tests. 

The boy tested positive for non-specific pancoronavirus assay, a screening tool for coronaviruses, when examined at the RITM.  

This prompted the DOH to seek confirmatory tests in Australia, which eventually yielded negative results for 2019-nCoV. 

This leaves the country with only a single suspected case, a 36-year-old man from Wuhan City who arrived in Tacloban on Jan. 17.  

The man had fever and cough, which are symptoms of the illness. 

According to Duque, the RITM is expecting to receive the primer from Japan next week while it is looking for a possible supplier of the reagents.

A reagent is a substance used in laboratories to detect or measure other substances.   

A primer pertains to the specific “sequencing of amino acid” that identifies a certain virus from the others.

“A primer is like a person’s thumb mark. No two people have the same thumb mark. Each and every virus also has its own amino acid sequence or identifying marks that are unique to each of them,” he added.

Fake news

Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo has asked the public to be discerning on what they hear and read about the 2019-nCoV so they would not contribute to the confusion and panic.

“Our request to the public is to look at the DOH site and reliable news agencies. Don’t blindly believe if someone says there is a positive case of the novel coronavirus, that there is a patient in a particular place. Be discerning,” Domingo said.

He stressed the need to protect airline and airport workers against the virus by having them wear face masks.

“Like the employees of the Bureau of Quarantine because they are on the frontline. If they detect any passenger who is running a fever, they ask them to step aside and examine them so they have to be protected,” he said.

Domingo said the DOH has advised workers in healthcare facilities to protect themselves and be vigilant if there are patients manifesting symptoms and have history of traveling to China. – With Sheila Crisostomo



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