At a press conference, DOH Assistant Secretary for public health Ma. Rosario Vergeire noted that the IATF had received information that nine more Filipinos tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number to 52.
AFP/Behrouz Mehri/File
Pinoys on cruise ship with COVID-19 now 52?
Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - February 22, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF ) is validating reports that 52 Filipinos on board the cruise ship Diamond Princess docked in Japan have contracted the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), an official of the Department of Health (DOH) said yesterday.

At a press conference, DOH Assistant Secretary for public health Ma. Rosario Vergeire noted that the IATF had received information that nine more Filipinos tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number to 52.  

“We received word that there are now 52 (Filipinos) positive for COVID-19, but we are still verifying this. It was 44 (last Thursday) and one of them recovered and has been discharged from hospital,” Vergeire said.

She was referring to the Filipino who was among the 10 crewmembers of the cruise ship who were the first to get the virus.  

Because of this, the entire cruise ship was placed on quarantine off Yokohama in Japan with more than 3,000 crew and passengers on board. 

According to Vergeire, the IATF met yesterday and adopted a repatriation plan for some 460 to 480 Filipino crew and passengers on board the ship, which is scheduled on Sunday. 

“We would like to assure Filipinos abroad that our government is working tirelessly to ensure that no Filipino gets left behind in our fight against COVID-19. The DOH and the Philippine government are prepared to undertake all measures to care for our kababayans, no matter where they are,” she said.

The repatriation plan spells out the respective responsibilities of the DOH, Department of Transportation (DOTr) , Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Magsaysay Maritime Corp., Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the concerned local government units.

Vergeire added that Magsaysay Maritime Corp. will bear much of the costs of the repatriation and quarantine of some 470 Filipinos who volunteered to come home.

“DOH will provide health human resources and their transportation to the quarantine site, on-site medical needs of the repatriates and hospitalization expenses through the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth),” she claimed.

The DOH will supply the repatriates with personal protective equipment (PPE) for the first five days of the quarantine period. 

She underscored that Magsaysay will shoulder the cost of all transportation expenses of the repatriates from Japan until completion of the quarantine period.

The shipping company will provide PPE of the repatriates for the remaining period of the quarantine period, food, lodging, personal hygiene kits and disinfectants, waste disposal services; and other incidental expenses of the repatriated crew.

On the other hand, the DOTr will shoulder the transportation of repatriates from Haribon Airport to New Clark City where they will undergo quarantine, while OWWA will provide livelihood packages to the repatriates.

OWWA will also provide their transportation from Manila to their respective destinations after the quarantine period.

She added that the Bases Conversion Development Authority has “graciously agreed to once again lend their facilities for the quarantine.”

“They will allow us to use other buildings in the facility to accommodate the number of repatriates and have committed to augment the number of personnel who will support operations,” she maintained. 

Vergeire said the task force will be implementing the same protocols adopted for the repatriation and quarantine of the 30 Filipinos from Wuhan city, China for the Filipino crew and passengers of the ship. 

For one, she said that only those who do not manifest any symptom of COVID-19 will be allowed to join the repatriation.

“There will be two carrriers, three hour apart. There will be medical teams inside the plane and they are going to wear hazmats for us to be assured that the crew and medical teams wil be protected,” she said.

The DOH has identified 16 referral hospitals where repatriates who may develop symptoms will be brought.

Five medical teams will be dispatched at any given time at the quarantine site to do regular assessments of the repatriates.   

Vergeire added each team is composed two doctors, two nurses, four nursing attendants and four utilities.

 Capas mayor

Mayor Reynaldo Catacutan of Capas, Tarlac accepted yesterday “the call to serve and empathize with our overseas foreign workers.”

Catacutan had previously opposed the quarantine of 32 Filipinos from Wuhan, China at the Athlete’s Village in New Clark City amid fears that the workers could spread the virus in Capas.

He said this time said the new plan to place under quarantine in the Athlete’s Village some 500 Filipinos from the cruise ship Diamond Princess docked in Japan would make Capas “the catalyst for a safe Philippines from COVID-19.”
“Today, I address the people of Capas and the nation as well, as we enter the bigger picture which God and the nation demand from us,” Catacutan said, adding, “We are heeding the call and there is no turning back as Capaseños will never back out from the challenge being posed to us.” 

In a message addressed to his constituents, Catacutan said “it is to be emphasized that these Filipinos were subjected to a rigorous medical examination by the Japanese government before they were allowed to disembark from the cruise ship where they were quarantined for several weeks.”

The DOH has announced that the crewmembers are to undergo 14-day quarantine at the Athelete’s Village as soon as they land this today at the Clark International Airport.

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) had suspended the issuance of the visa upon arrival for Chinese nationals, in an effort to slow down the arrival of Chinese tour groups and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

BI Commissioner Jaime Morente ordered the prudent assessment of passengers and immigration officers were instructed to refer foreign nationals who came from Hubei province to the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) for double-checking.

The officer added that the BOQ has been giving pocket trainings to immigration frontline personnel on how to prevent the transmission of the virus, given the risk of direct contact due to their line of work.

According to the BI, a special team of immigration officers with medical background has also been assembled to conduct immigration formalities, should Filipinos from Hubei province be repatriated.

These officers, according to Morente, have medical background and underwent safety briefings under the BOQ.

Last Feb. 2, BI officials prevented thousands of Chinese passengers and other foreign travelers from from China, Hong Kong and Macau from entering the country at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminals who came after Malacañang issued a travel ban due to COVID-19.

“On Jan. 31, 2020, immediately after the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency, the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases approved and recommended the adoption of guidelines for the management of the COVID-19.

Health officer at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) said yesterday that President Duterte’s temporary restriction to all incoming passengers from Hubei, China, Hong Kong and Macau has been effective in preventing the spread of the virus into the country.

She said that passengers coming China, Hong Kong and Macau were denied entry at the NAIA terminals and seaports by the BI as Duterte directed all immigration officials “to ensure that foreigners from the said countries will be temporarily be restricted entry to the country”.- With Rudy Santos, Ding Cervantes

MA. ROSARIO VERGEIRE
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