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Philippines  has first local case of COVID-19
janitorial service crew disinfects the Muslim prayer hall at the Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan yesterday. The prayer room, which was visited by a COVID-19 patient, has been ordered temporarily closed by San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora.
Boy Santos

Philippines has first local case of COVID-19

Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - March 7, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The country now has its first confirmed local case of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), involving a man with no history of overseas travel, the Department of Health (DOH) revealed yesterday.

The latest case is one of two most recent involving Filipinos. The three previous cases in the Philippines involved Chinese nationals – one of whom died, the DOH said.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the first local case involves a 62-year-old Filipino man with no history of travel abroad.

Duque said the patient – the fifth COVID-19 case in the country –  is “known to have regularly visited a Muslim prayer hall in Barangay Greenhills, San Juan City.” He was referring to the Muslim prayer room at the Greenhills Shopping Center, ordered closed yesterday by San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora.

“It can be considered as a local case... There is no (local) transmission to speak of as yet because we only have one case. It’s premature to say there is a local transmission,” Duque said at a press conference.

He stressed that if more positive cases of COVID-19 are confirmed, “that’s the time we can say there is a local transmission.”

The patient experienced cough with phlegm last Feb. 25 and was diagnosed with severe pneumonia when seen in a hospital in Metro Manila last March 1, health officials said. 

Specimens were collected from the patient on March 4 and they turned out positive for COVID.

For World Health Organization (WHO) country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the Philippines is “seeing local transmission” of COVID-19.

“But we need to be clear that it points to the fact that the patient has acquired the disease in the Philippines. We don’t know the point of contact, whether it was from a foreigner, a local contact or other contaminated source,” he said.

He maintained that it’s not yet known if the patient had already transmitted the infection to other people.

“Even the fifth case is a local transmission but getting another case in a very close contact does not mean widespread transmission,” he added.

He also said they’re not yet sure whether to look at the case as isolated or a cluster of cases. He said having a cluster of cases does not mean there is widespread local transmission.

Asked if cases are going undetected in the Philippines, he said it is possible.

“That’s why we are urging people that if you have respiratory symptoms to isolate yourself, practice social distancing. If there are pointers which point toward the fact that you possibly have had exposure to a COVID patient, then you need to see a medical practitioner,” he maintained.

The fourth COVID-19 case is a 48-year-old Filipino male who had been to Japan. The patient returned to the Philippines last Feb. 25 and manifested chills and fever starting March 3. 

The patient had sought medical consultation at a hospital. The samples collected from him tested positive for virus on March 5.

Duque assured the public that the DOH had already deployed epidemiologists and surveillance officers to do contact tracing to identify the people who may have come into contact with the two patients.

He also said they would find out how the fifth case got infected since he did not travel abroad.

So far, the DOH has identified a relative of the patient who developed symptoms.

The health chief is urging “previous visitors to the prayer hall who are presenting fever and/or respiratory symptoms” to call the DOH hotline (02)8-651-7800 loc 1149-1150 for proper referral to the appropriate health facility.

Shopping complex sanitized

Aside from ordering the closure of the prayer room, Zamora also directed the city health office and the Greenhills Shopping Center management to start disinfecting and sanitizing the area and the whole shopping complex.

“He frequented the prayer room here at the shopping center and we are working with the national government to locate those who came in close contact with him,” Zamora told reporters.

“With the number of people going here, it’s possible that someone contracted the virus,” he added.

The management of the Cardinal Santos Medical Center (CSMC), where the male patient with no history of foreign travel was first admitted, said he has been transferred to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Alabang in Muntinlupa.

“He tested positive for COVID-19 given continued presence of symptoms,” the hospital management said in a statement yesterday.

CSMC added that persons who have had contact with the patient had shown no symptoms of the virus.

As the number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines reached five, Malacañang again appealed for sobriety, saying, “We are ready from the start.”

“There should be no need for alarm because we are ready, from the very start, we already said that,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

He reiterated the call for lawmakers to approve the P2-billion supplemental funds being asked by the health department to help boost government efforts to address COVID-19.

“If that is a request of the DOH, the President will certainly be (supporting it)… Definitely, because there is an emergency situation on COVID-19,” Panelo said.

Asked if there is a need for President Duterte to limit his public engagements because of the threat of COVID-19, Panelo said the President is doing his job with the same intensity since he was elected into office in 2016.

“Knowing the President, he doesn’t care, couldn’t care less about his own safety whatever virus… unless there are other events that will change his movements,” Panelo said.

“Even if we want to (limit his schedule), this President is very workaholic. I don’t think so, knowing him,” he added.

“We request the general public to remain calm and sensible, and to not resort to any rash conclusion that could lead to unfounded widespread panic, regarding the new recorded cases of 2019-novel coronavirus in Australia and Taiwan, with both patients having recently traveled to the Philippines,” Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, for his part, said in reaction to reports that two infected individuals in Australia and Taiwan had traveled from the Philippines. He called the reports “still inconclusive.”

“We again ask everyone to continue to cooperate, heed and observe all precautionary measures by our health department along with other advisories by other concerned agencies,” he said.

“Preventing the spread of this health concern is something that cannot be done independently, but one that must be addressed collectively,” the PCOO chief said.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, is urging the DOH to step up its campaign to detect and contain transmission of COVID-19 in the country.

“This is a cause for concern and a wake-up call for our health officials. We should not give the public a false sense of security because the danger of local transmission is real,” she said.

She urged the DOH to review its screening and testing protocol as well as intensify monitoring and surveillance to include all travelers, not just those who come from countries with high prevalence of COVID-19.

She also asked the DOH to improve local community monitoring mechanisms as the global outbreak “will test the country’s public health system.”

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian for his part, said the Department of Education (DepEd)’s task force on the novel coronavirus should ensure schools’ strict adherence to health authorities’ safety recommendations on public gatherings as graduation season kicks off this month.

“This should prompt DepEd to ensure that protocols are in place before and during graduation and moving-up ceremonies,” Gatchalian, chairman of the committee on basic education, said.  –  Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez, Neil Jayson Servallos

COVID-19 DOH FRANCISCO DUQUE III
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