The statement, issued by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat was a clarification of the Feb. 7 advisory of the DOH on concerts and other public events and gatherings.
The STAR/Boy Santos, File
DOH: Social gatherings safe, but…
Sheila Crisostomo, Catherine Talavera (The Philippine Star) - February 19, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The threat of coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) contagion should not discourage the public from holding social gatherings and other events as long as precautionary measures prescribed by the health department are observed.

The assurance was contained in a joint statement issued yesterday by the Department of Health (DOH), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Department of Tourism (DOT) amid continued concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

The statement, issued by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat was a clarification of the Feb. 7 advisory of the DOH on concerts and other public events and gatherings.

“(We) would like to assure everyone that it is safe to organize and attend public gatherings, meetings and festivals as long as all precautionary measures identified by the DOH are observed,” read the statement.

In its advisory, the DOH had discouraged the holding of public events as precaution against COVID-19.

According to DOH, the best protection against COVID-19 is washing of hands regularly and seeking immediate medical attention if signs of cough, colds, sore throat and fever appear.

“All preventive and precautionary measures have been put in place by the national government to contain the spread of COVID-19,” the three officials said in their joint statement.

They noted that guidelines for handling guests in tourism enterprises are being implemented in hotels and resorts around the country. 

These include having infrared thermometers and hand sanitizers at establishments.

“The safety of the public, especially our tourists and employees in the tourism sector, remains the priority of the Philippine government,” they added. 

“The clarification bodes well for the tourism industry given that the Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) sector is a huge contributor of tourism revenues and jobs,” Puyat said.

MICE is among the 10 tourism products under the DOT’s National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP).

Puyat emphasized that the MICE business has a long value chain involving accommodation, transportation, food, recreation and retail sectors. 

“It is critical that MICE events already firmed up for the year continue to be mounted with the DOH protocols strictly heeded,” she said.

“We encourage event planners and organizers to be more circumspect and to implement the guidelines prescribed by the DOH. Equally important is the role of the DILG and local government units in enforcing and monitoring the implementation of the guidelines to ensure the safety of our guests,” she added.

Furthermore, Puyat said the DOT will push through with the holding of the first Philippine Fun Sale in March.

“Aside from the seat sales and lowering the rates of the hotels, this March we’re going to have a nationwide sale. All the malls. Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao will be participating,” Puyat said in a television interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel.

More infected Pinoys

Meanwhile, the number of Filipinos infected with COVID-19 in the quarantined cruise ship in Japan rose to 35 yesterday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

“This includes eight new cases who are all crewmembers,” the DFA said in a statement.

The Filipinos who tested positive for the infection were immediately transferred to hospitals in Japan and are now undergoing treatment, the agency said.

The Philippine embassy in Tokyo constantly communicates with the Filipino patients to ensure their wellbeing, DFA Undersecretary Brigido Dulay said in an interview with CNN Philippines.

The DFA said the Japanese government was expected to announce yesterday the disembarkation procedures for the end of the ship’s quarantine period.

“As such, the embassy is coordinating with all relevant Philippine and Japanese government agencies and is meeting with senior management representatives of Princess Cruises to ensure an orderly and safe repatriation of Filipinos once they clear the Japanese quarantine requirements,” it said.

Dulay said most of the infected Filipinos are “asymptomatic” and “healthy.”

He said the earliest time the Filipino crewmembers can disembark from the cruise ship will be March 5. He noted that the crew have to undergo “separate quarantine.”

“That’s another 14 days for the crew. They will have to have three tests. The three tests will run through a 14-day period,” the DFA official said.

According to the DFA, there are 531 Filipino crewmembers and seven guest passengers aboard the COVID-19-hit cruise ship.

He said 401 of them have expressed desire to be repatriated. The DFA said repatriation is voluntary.

In Batangas, 10 Chinese tourists were added to the list of persons under investigation (PUI) and summoned by authorities. The Chinese had stayed for eight months in Makati City.

Global overreaction

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned against a global overreaction to the new coronavirus epidemic following panic-buying, event cancellations and concerns about cruise ship travel, and said over 80 percent of the infected patients show mild symptoms and would recover.

More than 72,000 people have now been infected in China and hundreds more abroad, although the WHO stressed the disease has infected a “tiny” proportion of people outside its epicenter and the mortality rate remains relatively low.

The outbreak is threatening to put a dent in the global economy, with China paralyzed by vast quarantine measures and major firms such as iPhone maker Apple and mining giant BHP warning it could damage bottom lines.

Trade fairs, sports competitions and cultural events have been disrupted, while several countries have banned travelers from China and major airlines have suspended flights.

The cruise ship industry has come into focus as hundreds of people became infected aboard a vessel off Japan. One passenger tested positive after disembarking another liner in Cambodia.

The WHO, which has previously said travel restrictions were unnecessary, rejected the suggestion that all cruises should be halted.

“Measures should be taken proportional to the situation. Blanket measures may not help,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva.

The WHO has praised China for taking drastic measures to contain the virus.

Authorities have placed about 56 million people in hard-hit central Hubei under quarantine, virtually sealing off the province from the rest of the country.

‘Less deadly than SARS’

The official death toll in China hit 1,868 on Feb. 18 after another 98 people died, most in Hubei and its capital Wuhan, where the virus emerged in December.

There were nearly 1,900 new cases – a drop from the previous day. Reported new infections have been falling in the rest of the country for the past two weeks.

Tedros warned that it was too early to tell if the decline would continue.

But the situation remains dire at the epicenter, with the director of a Wuhan hospital dying on Tuesday – the seventh medical worker to succumb to COVID-19.

The WHO has sought to reassure the international community, noting that the novel coronavirus – which has a two percent mortality rate – is “less deadly” than its cousins, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

There have been some 900 cases around the world, with only five deaths outside the mainland – in France, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

More than 80 percent of patients with the disease have mild symptoms and recover, the WHO said.

“This is a very serious outbreak and it has the potential to grow, but we need to balance that in terms of the number of people infected. Outside Hubei this epidemic is affecting a very, very tiny, tiny proportion of people,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies program.

Despite the WHO’s reassurances, global concerns persist, with an international inventions show in Geneva postponed and panic-buying in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Supply chains of global firms such as Apple supplier Foxconn and automaker Toyota have been disrupted as key production facilities in China were temporarily closed.

Apple said it did not expect to meet its revenue guidance for the March quarter, as worldwide iPhone supply would be “temporarily constrained” and demand in China was affected.

BHP, the world’s biggest miner, warned that demand for resources could be hit, with oil, copper and steel use all set to decline if the disease continues to spread. -Helen Flores, Ed Amoroso

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