WHO says no global crisis yet; Duque piqued

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Friday he was somewhat piqued that the World Health Organization—which is based in Manila—is yet to decide whether to declare a global health emergency after the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus (nCoV) that has so far killed 26 people.

READ: Global health emergency eyed over outbreak

“Honestly, I feel a bit frustrated with WHO because they’ve had meetings in the last two days. I don’t understand why they haven’t reached a consensus yet although, of course, they explained that they see more mild cases than serious cases,” Duque said.

Meanwhile, the Civil Aeronautics Board on Friday ordered all airlines operating in the Philippines to monitor events that may occur in other cities that may be affected by the spread of the coronavirus.

“All air carriers are directed to closely monitor the events that might transpire from other cities that may be affected by the coronavirus, and to take the necessary precautions in ensuring that the health and safety of passengers are not jeopardized,” the board said in a statement.

Manila International Airport Authority general manager Eddie Monreal on Friday ordered terminal managers to ensure all-time availability of hand sanitizers in all four terminals of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Monreal’s directive came as part of the government’s efforts to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus from Wuhan, China.

READ: Virus epicenter shut-off

Duque said there was no confirmed case yet of the virus in the Philippines.

The DOH in Eastern Visayas also said there is no report of the dreaded nCoV in Tacloban City, following some social media reports of a person being admitted to one of the hospitals in the city after showing some symptoms of the mysterious SARS-like disease coming from China.

“If ever there are social media posts (on suspected novel coronavirus patient in Tacloban), the DOH will not deny nor confirm it. We have to follow government protocol based on WHO issuances,” said DOH Regional Director Minerva Molon in a press briefing.

WHO Representative to the Philippines Rabindra Abeyasinghe said the committee was discussing the pros and cons of declaring the outbreak of the virus, first reported in Wuhan, China, as a public health emergency of international concern.

READ: Major SARS-like outbreak feared amid third death outside of China

He said the declaration of the outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern would depend on the mortality rate among patients.

He said most of the fatalities had pre-existing medical conditions.

“We are not clear of the new deaths that have been unofficially reported, so WHO is working with authorities in China to better understand whether this virus is causing the death in otherwise healthy people, or it is more likely that it is causing death in people that have pre-existing medical condition,” Abeyasinghe said.

But the problem, he said, was that the virus is causing respiratory infection. 

With the current flu season, he said, a lot of people may exhibit symptoms similar to the coronavirus infection like fever, cough, colds and sore throats.

“So to determine if somebody is actually infected with this virus, you need a definitive test as we have seen in the case of the child (the five-year-old Chinese boy) that was detected in Cebu City in the Philippines,” Abeyasinghe said.

Duque said WHO met again Thursday, so he would check if there was already a consensus to declare a global health emergency.

He also said the WHO deliberations Wednesday were “inconclusive,” but they were expecting some conclusions later today.

With the declaration of a global health emergency, Duque guaranteed the response to this novel coronavirus would be better as it would be coordinated and guidelines would be standardized.

Duque also said there were still no results on the throat samples of the Chinese boy who recently traveled from Wuhan to Cebu City.

They were still awaiting the findings from his specimens sent to a laboratory in Melbourne, Australia, to determine if he was afflicted with the coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan.

Earlier, the Chinese boy tested positive for “non-specific pancoronavirus assay.” He also yielded negative results for SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV.

READ: PH probes SARS-like virus case

Senator Risa Hontiveros on Friday called on the government to impose a temporary travel ban on all individuals for at least 30 days who came from or had passed through Wuhan.

Hontiveros issued the call in light of the asymptomatic nature and lengthy incubation period of the 2019-nCoV as determined by health authorities. 

This call was on top of the Civil Aeronautics Board’s recent suspension of all flights from Wuhan to the Philippines.

In addition, she said, authorities must place the residents of Wuhan presently in the country and those with flu-like symptoms who had traveled through China in the past 14 days under health surveillance. 

“I also strongly urge these individuals to self-quarantine and to report to health authorities any sign of sickness for appropriate medical observation and proper treatment,” she said. 

The senator considers this a global concern that needs international cooperation. 

“It is of the utmost importance that we consider similar precautionary measures being taken by Taiwan, Singapore, and our other neighboring countries,” she said. 

Senator Francis Tolentino called for the creation of the Office of the Surgeon General, which would serve as the national spokesperson on all matters relating to public health in the Philippines.

“The recent influx of diseases, such as the still unidentified strain of coronavirus originating from Wuhan, China, necessitates the need for a proactive government body which focuses on a reliable communication system for disease prevention and control,” said Tolentino, who recently filed Senate Bill 1288.

Under the proposed measure, the Office of the Surgeon General, which will be an attached agency of the Department of Health, would regularly publish health bulletins and reports on critical public health issues and on the health and fitness of the general public. With Darwin Amojelar, Joel E. Zurbano and Ronald O. Reyes

READ: Public warned: No cure for n-CoV; only hygiene

READ: From bats to humans? Analysis shows possible sources of virus

Topics: Francisco Duque III , World Health Organization , 2019 novel coronavirus
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