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500 Philippines crewmen stranded on cruise ship off California
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the DOH received information that a helicopter had been sent to bring the necessary kit to test the passengers and crew, including Filipinos, for COVID-19.
The STAR/Boy Santos, File

500 Philippines crewmen stranded on cruise ship off California

Mayen Jaymalin (The Philippine Star) - March 6, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) yesterday confirmed that 500 Filipinos are onboard the cruise ship Grand Princess, which was held off California for fear of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) contagion.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the DOH received information that a helicopter had been sent to bring the necessary kit to test the passengers and crew, including Filipinos, for COVID-19.

“They are doing the test. I just don’t know if they will test all or just the symptomatic,” Duque said in an interview as he noted that information reaching the DOH as of late yesterday was “patchy.”

He said the DOH needed full information and results of the laboratory tests before deciding on how to assist the Filipino crew of the Grand Princess.

Based on news reports, United States
authorities delayed the return of the cruise ship to San Francisco from Hawaii to test those on board for potential virus infection.

It was reported that thousands, including Filipino crew, are on board the cruise ship.

The Philippine government will probably adopt a similar procedure if ever the 500 Filipino crew will be repatriated from California and place them under a fresh round of 14-day quarantine upon arrival, according to Duque.

“Again, we will do the same cycle, same as the repatriates from the cruise ship Diamond Princess in Yokohama. Hopefully, we will learn a lesson from what happened in the Diamond Princess,” he said.

Duque added that Japanese authorities themselves admitted that they committed lapses in the quarantine procedure of those on board Diamond Princess.

Duque, however, said the problem with the Diamond Princess was that the crew were allowed to interact with the passengers who were placed under quarantine in their cabins. He added that 80 Filipinos on board the cruise ship have been infected with the virus.

The health secretary said it would be best if all those on board the Grand Princess would be brought to a facility instead of putting them under quarantine on the cruise ship.

He likewise said he would try to make representation with the United States government or intervene if Filipinos would be put at risk.

“The extent of the intervention I still cannot say, except to tell them what not to do as what happened in the Diamond Princess. We still don’t have a clear picture of the situation,” he added, stressing that whether the government would undertake repatriation would be decided by the Filipino crew themselves.

Also yesterday, the DOH was still monitoring reports that one of the COVID-19 cases in Australia came from the Philippines, according to Duque.

“We don’t have enough information to make a complete sense of it. The nationality and the timeline is not even clear; for all you know, the person may have contracted the infection there in Australia because they have a case and we don’t,” he said.

In Hong Kong, Filipinos who tested positive for COVID-19 are doing fine and apparently contracted a mild form of the infection, according to information gathered by the DOH.

Meanwhile, Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said a total of 19 repatriates from Diamond Princess manifested symptoms, 14 of whom have tested negative of the virus. Five are still in hospital awaiting laboratory results.

Duque said the repatriates from the Diamond Princess are set to be discharged from quarantine next Wednesday.

New cases

As this developed, another overseas Filipino worker in Hong Kong has tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Philippine consulate general in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Health Department officially informed the consulate that the female worker has tested positive for COVID-19.

She is the third Filipino to have tested positive in Hong Kong. The other two have recovered, but remain in hospital for further tests.

The female worker, whose close contacts were her employer and employer’s son who have earlier been arranged for quarantine, is in a quarantine facility undergoing treatment.

“The consulate general just spoke to her and ascertained that she is healthy and presently not exhibiting any symptoms. She asked that her identity be kept secret,” the consulate said.

The case of the third Filipino infected with the virus was among the four additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 that the Center for Health Protection (CHP) of the DOH announced on Wednesday it was investigating.

The CHP said the 57-year-old female (the 103rd case) is the domestic helper of the patients of the 76th, who had visited Fook Wai Ching She, and 91st cases confirmed on Feb. 24 and Feb. 26.

Her respiratory sample tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday.

“She is now under treatment and is in stable condition,” CHP said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Tuesday announced that the Philippines would prepare for the immediate repatriation of Filipino workers in Hong Kong after domestic workers were fired by their employers amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Reacting to a recent report in the South China Morning Post, Locsin said he was “deeply disgusted” with Hong Kong as he lamented on Monday the condition of Filipino domestic workers there who were fired by their employers.

In Australia, a woman in her 60s believed to have returned from the Philippines on Tuesday is one of six new confirmed cases, according to the New South Wales (NSW) government.

 “Her travel details are being obtained and will be disclosed if she posed a risk to any other passengers on her flight,” the NSW government said on Wednesday.

The additional six confirmed cases across Sydney – which also includes an elderly female resident at Macquarie Park nursing facility, a female doctor at Liverpool Hospital, a female patient from the Northern Beaches and a male from Cronulla – brings to 22 the total number of positive infections in NSW since the outbreak began.

DOH cool to RDT

The DOH is cool to the use of the rapid diagnostic test (RDT) kits as South Korea did in identifying COVID-19 cases until it has been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“If the WHO can already vet that rapid diagnostic test, than we will ask you to give us some of those RDTs. But absent the third-party vetting of that RDT, I’m sorry,” Duque said at a press conference on Wednesday.

The health chief added that the ambassador of South Korea and Japan informed him about the RDT, which allowed Korea to test 15,000 people a day.

“Not to assail, not to challenge, but of course I’m also a physician and a man of science, so I asked them: what is the basis of your rapid diagnostic tests? Has this been cleared by the WHO? Because the last thing I want to have is a rapid diagnostic test where it might produce false negatives,” Duque said.

“That’s scary. I’ll say you are negative then let you go out, then you’re really positive. I have a false sense of security, I’ll let you go out,” he added.

At this time, Duque said the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) is still using the chemical RNA primer to determine if one is positive for the coronavirus.

He said the RITM test is more tedious, which takes 24 to 48 hours to know the result.

The DOH is expanding its testing capacity, which Duque hopes to be completed within four weeks.

He said four sub-national laboratories in the Visayas, Mindanao, Northern Luzon and Metro Manila are up for accreditation. – With Pia Lee-Brago

FRANCISCO DUQUE III
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