Don’t panic
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - January 24, 2020 - 12:00am

Gong hei fat choy! That’s the Cantonese greeting for our Chinese friends in the celebration of their New Lunar Year tomorrow, Saturday, Jan. 25. In Mandarin dialect of China, the greeting would be Gong xi fa cai. While we join in this Chinese New Year celebration, a far more serious health concern dampens such welcome greeting to many tourists from China to spend this holiday period with their family and relatives here in the Philippines.

Blame this to the outbreak of novel coronavirus (n2019CoV) that so far claimed lives of Chinese living in Wuhan City in Hubei province of China where this flu-like disease originated in December last year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), coronaviruses are a large family of diseases ranging from the common cold to the deadlier Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

As per the latest monitoring by the WHO, the confirmed cases of n2019COV included one patient in the United States and another in Hong Kong following other confirmed cases in Japan, South Korea and Thailand. The Philippines had experienced cases of both the MERS-CoV in 2015 and SARS in 2003 that reached us here from human transmission precisely of people travelling across the globe.

As of Wednesday though when we had Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III as featured guest in our weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast news forum, there is no confirmed case yet of n2019 here in Philippines. This after our alert authorities from the Bureau of Quarantine detected potential carriers of this latest strain of flu virus, five of whom were Chinese tourists stopped at the international airports in Cebu and Kalibo, Aklan.

An agency attached to the DOH, Duque cited the vigilance of our local Quarantine authorities who spotted the five Chinese tourists with fever-level body temperature after they went through the thermal imaging apparatus set up along the airport arrival area. Since they were visitors to the country, Duque told us, the Chinese tourists were discreetly asked to step aside and undergo complete Quarantine medical check at the airport.

One of whom is a feverish five-year-old boy who arrived with his mother last Jan. 12 and both were immediately isolated in a local hospital in Cebu. Sharing the update report to him during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay at the Cafe Adriatico in Manila, Duque disclosed the boy no longer has fever but is still coughing and is on the road to recovery. Dr. Duque noted with optimism that the sick boy might not be a carrier of n2019COV because his mother has not manifested any symptom. 

Nonetheless, he stressed, the DOH is not taking any chances. The boy and his mother, although the latter is asymptomatic, remain in isolation in the Cebu hospital where they were immediately taken from the airport. The DOH is still awaiting the results of the laboratory examinations done on the blood and swab samples taken from the boy and his mother to a laboratory in Melbourne, Australia. Duque expects the results to be out today.

As added precaution, Duque disclosed the DOH started “contact tracing” of boy’s co-passengers four seats around him at the same airplane to check if they show or manifest symptoms of the disease.

The three other Chinese tourists, on the other hand, were stopped at the Kalibo airport where they arrived for a vacation trip to our popular Boracay beach resort island.

They, too, indicated no signs of n2019COV during their isolation at a medical center. Fortunately, they turned out to be afflicted with just ordinary strain of flu virus. Samples and swabs were taken from them for testing at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City. They were already released from quarantine.

Duque reassured the public during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay other safeguard measures are being implemented by the DOH-Bureau of Quarantine like providing all our country’s airports with disinfectant sprays and N95 masks for the front-line government personnel from Immigration to Customs and other airport terminal workers.

Any travel restriction, the DOH chief cited, is a matter that only the WHO can decide and the country concerned, as in this case, Wuhan in China as the original source of n2019COV.

But as far as the DOH is concerned, Duque urged those who are planning to go to China for the celebration of the Chinese New Year to avoid it for now. To date, Duque noted, the cases of n2019COV patients in China were all due to animal-to-human contact based on the tracing of the virus that came from exotic animals sold in Wuhan market.

As part of surveillance protocols of the WHO being implemented by the DOH, those coming from China who  manifest fever and other symptoms of coronavirus will be placed under quarantine. Such travellers will be considered as “persons under investigation,” Duque explained, until it has been established by our health authorities they are not n2019COV carriers.

The DOH Secretary pointed out contracting n2019COV is fatal to persons with pre-existing health or medical condition. But with healthy and hygienic practices, Duque cited, a person’s natural anti-bodies are the best protection from corona virus infection, not to mention drinking of vitamins and lots of water, and most especially to wash thoroughly our hands with soap and water.

Duque advised further the public to follow simple things we can do to protect ourselves like covering one’s mouth and nose with handkerchief or tissue paper when someone coughs near you or better yet, he quipped, hold your breath. Avoid shaking hands but just do the fist bump that the DOH chief did with us at the end of our conversations with him.

The WHO, for now, is withholding to declare a global health emergency until all needed medical data come in amid concerns of human-to-human transmission. But transportation ban has been imposed in the entire Wuhan with 17 dead out of 581 patients who contracted n2019COV virus in China. Philippine flights to Wuhan are also suspended indefinitely.

So there is no need for undue panic, Duque assuaged us over this latest health scare.

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