In this Jan. 31, 2020 photo, pedestrians in Metro Manila are shown wearing face masks, a day after the Department of Health confirmed the first case of novel coronavirus in the Philippines.
The STAR/Edd Gumban
Public urged not to hoard face masks needed by frontline health workers battling nCoV
Alexis Romero ( - February 3, 2020 - 6:01pm

MANILA, Philippines — A health official Monday urged the public not to hoard face masks to ensure that there would be enough supply for health workers tending to patients who have exhibited symptoms of the novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease or nCoV ARD.

Research Institute for Tropical Medicine Director Celia Carlos said there is no community transmission of the virus in the Philippines so her agency is not yet recommending its use for those who do not have respiratory symptoms like cough and difficulty of breathing.

“We should reserve the face masks to those who need them. There is already a shortage of this valuable commodity, and we should give them to those who need them most: the health workers,” Carlos said at a press briefing in Malacañang.

Citing guidelines from the World Health Organization, Carlos said one should wear a mask if he has respiratory symptoms, if he is providing care to individuals with respiratory symptoms, and if one is a health worker attending to individuals with respiratory symptoms.

Some stores in Metro Manila have ran out of face masks due to high demand, according to previous reports. Officials have warned businesses not to sell overpriced masks or face charges.

Ready for outbreak

Carlos said there are efforts to buy huge amounts of personal protective equipment from local and international sources in anticipation of a possible outbreak or wider spread of the virus. She said RITM has a "surge capacity plan" that includes the training designed to enable laboratories in the country to conduct testing.

"We just acquired the technology fairly recently, we may need to first make an assessment of five sub-national laboratories previously identified," Carlos added.

The health official said measures are in place to ensure the safety of health workers who are in the front lines in the fight to contain the infection.

"For San Lazaro and RITM, we have set standard procedures on standard prevention and control and that covers a lot of things from the wearing of the personal protective equipment to handling of patients to cleaning of rooms occupied by infected patients," Carlos said.

"Both of the hospitals have a long history of handling emerging infectious diseases. So far we have been good, the health workers, none of them, so far, have been infected," she added.

Carlos said health workers have also been requested to monitor their temperature twice a day.

"We quarantine them in case they develop any symptoms and we manage the symptoms," she added.

Asked if there is a need to provide the health workers additional pay, Carlos said it is not within her power to determine whether it should be given.

"But if that is recommended, I'm sure all of us will welcome that, especially from RITM and San Lazaro... But we have a standard hazard pay in government but there more people who are exposed to more hazards than others but they receive the same remunerations," she added.

WHO: Virus can be contained

WHO Representative in the Philippines Rabindra Abeyasinghe expressed optimism that the nCoV ARD can be contained and called on the public to "act rationally."

"The (emergency) committee (of the international health regulation) and WHO continues to believe that the outbreak can be controlled and the spread of the virus can be stopped. WHO is working together with member states to strengthen their preparedness capacities to improve their ability to deal with possible or likely cases and to better manage those cases," Abeyasinghe said at the same press briefing.

"The WHO continues to work together with the Department of Health Philippines and the Filipino government to increase its preparedness and response capacities to deal with this outbreak. We remain confident that the outbreak can be controlled and we can prevent expanded spread of this disease," he added.

Abeyasinghe also commended the Philippine government for its efforts to strengthen its preparedness and to build its capacity to detect cases of the virus.

Carlos said the tests conducted on patients exhibiting symptoms of nCoV ARD costs about P15,000 to P20,000 but the government is doing it for free. She confirmed that the government is also considering Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija as one of the sites for the quarantine facility.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: March 30, 2020 - 9:31am

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

March 30, 2020 - 9:31am

The Department of Health denounces reports of health workers around the country being attacked physically and being refused access to basic services, blocked and fined at checkpoints and evicted from their homes.

"These acts cannot be tolerated," the DOH said in a statement released Sunday night.

The health department said it is mobilizing its own team to get more details and hold perpetrators of attacks against health workers liable. They will also report the incidents to the Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19 for proper investigation and resolution.

March 29, 2020 - 2:36pm

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III says test kits donated by the Chinese government are actually accurate.

In a transcript of a text message sent by the embassy and since confirmed by Duque, the health secretary said:

"Hi! There is nothing wrong with the REAL TIME-POLYMERASE CHAIN REACTION machine which is used for generating positive or negative result as the case may be!

Again your Test Kits BGI and SANSURE BIOTECHNOLOGY are very good and up to the standards as those which were donated by WHO and approved by our RITM. AGAIN OUR GRATITUDE AND APPRECIATION TO YOU AND THE CHINESE Government."

The Department of Health has also issued an apology and clarification on the issue.


March 29, 2020 - 10:51am

US President Donald Trump decided late Saturday against imposing a broad two-week lockdown on New York and its neighbors after a strong pushback from local political leaders and warnings of the panic it could spark.

"A quarantine will not be necessary," Trump tweeted, some eight hours after he stunned the New York metropolitan region, the epicenter of the US coronavirus outbreak, with a proposal to place it under quarantine to prevent residents from leaving.

Trump had indicated earlier he was responding to worries in other states, particularly Florida, that travelers from the greater New York city area could spread COVID-19 in their communities.

He told reporters that "heavily infected" New Yorkers were a threat to Florida, a popular southern holiday destination for people in the northeast. ?— AFP

March 28, 2020 - 6:29pm

Iran announces that 139 more people had died from the novel coronavirus, raising the official death toll to 2,517 in one of the world's worst-affected countries.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour says in a press conference that 3,076 more cases had been confirmed in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections to 35,408. — AFP

March 28, 2020 - 3:53pm

Actress Iza Calzado tested positive for the coronavirus disease, her manager says.

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