The government is preparing to repatriate more than 500 Filipinos onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan, after 16 more of them tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number to 27, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Monday.
Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Eduardo Meñez said those who tested positive for the virus were brought to the hospital and the Philippine embassy in Tokyo has delivered toiletries and other supplies to Filipino patients aboard the cruise ship.
“We received information that aside from the 11 Filipino crew members who were earlier identified, another 16 have been identified over the weekend as COVID-positive,” Meñez said in a press briefing in Malacañang.
He said their possible repatriation will need clearance from the Japanese government and the embassy has been coordinating with Princess Cruises to facilitate the repatriation of Filipinos there.
The government, he said, is ready to provide them with other forms of help aside from the assistance provided by their employers.
“For the 27 who are currently in the hospital, whether they could leave immediately is one question. Everyone else will have to be cleared before they return to the Philippines,” Meñez said.
Meanwhile, another Filipino in the United Arab Emirates tested positive for COVID-19, the sixth confirmed case of the virus there.
Meñez said the embassy in Abu Dhabi has been in touch with UAE authorities to ensure that the patient, a UAE resident, is given care and support.
The DFA has released a department circular encouraging their personnel to postpone or cancel non-essential foreign travels to COVID-19-affected areas, Meñez said.
If an official trip has to be undertaken, he said DFA personnel should refrain from passing through China and its special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau.
A health official on Monday said the Japan embassy and the owners of the m/v Diamond Princess now quarantined at Yokohama Port have requested the repatriation of 538 Filipinos at the end of the quarantine period for COVID-19 on Feb. 19.
“The Japan Embassy and even the m/v Diamond Princess have been saying that the quarantine period for passengers of the cruise ship as well as the crew members is already forthcoming,” said DOH Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire in a media briefing.
“So they are targeting and requesting if we can already do the repatriation once the quarantine period is over,” she added.
Vergeire said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases is still discussing the repatriation of Filipinos who remain under quarantine in the vessel.
She said the task force has yet to identify the facility that will be used to isolate all the Filipinos once they return to the country.
The total number of infected individuals in the cruise ship has risen to 356.
The cruise ship was placed under quarantine at the Yokohama Port near Tokyo after an 80-year-old passenger tested positive for COVID-19 on Feb. 1, a week after disembarking in Hong Kong. On Feb. 3, the remaining 3,700 crew and passengers of the vessel were asked to stay on the ship.
DOH data as of noon Feb. 17, showed that a total of 453 patients monitored for COVID-19 have tested negative for the viral infection.
The latest DOH case tracker indicated there were 521 patients under investigation monitored by the department for COVID-19.
Of this number, 347 patients have already been discharged, while 171 remain admitted in different hospitals
The remaining three are the confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus—all Chinese nationals—one of which died on Feb. 1.
The patients monitored for COVID-19 need to yield two consecutive negative results before they can be released from isolation in hospitals.
In a statement red by Vergeire, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the decrease in the number of admitted patients under investigation reflects the department’s strengthened surveillance, assessment and management intervention for COVID-19.
“Although we see a decreasing trend, the department will not be complacent and will be more vigilant as we brace for the possibility of local transmission in our country,” he said.
As of noon Sunday, a total of 498 patients were monitored by the DOH for COVID-19.
There are only 22 cases with pending test results while the remaining patients have yet to submit specimens for testing.
“We cannot underscore more the importance of regular hand washing and observance of cough etiquette to prevent the spread of the COVID-19,” Duque said.
Meanwhile, Duque said the 49 repatriated Filipinos from Hubei, China being quarantined at the New Clark City Athlete’s Village show no signs or symptoms of respiratory illness. Repatriates are monitored twice a day.
The DOH also said as of Feb. 17, the Epidemiology Bureau reported that of the 280 interviewed contacts of the first and second cases of COVID-19, 221 have completed the required home quarantine procedure, while 14 are still on home quarantine.
The remaining 45 contacts were admitted as patients under investigation and 31 were eventually discharged. Two are still currently admitted, six are under strict monitoring and six have already left the country.
On the third confirmed case, a total of 255 (34 percent) out of 740 contacts were traced, including co-passengers and individual contacts from hotels and hospitals.
The death toll due to the viral infection jumped to over 1,700 globally, mostly in mainland China, including five people in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan, France, and Taiwan. More than 71,000 people have been infected.
As the COVID-19 scare has dramatically reduced the number of foreign visitors, the Tourism Department announced that President Rodrigo Dutere would visit local destinations to promote domestic travel.
Tourism Undersecretary Art Boncato said his department has been coordinating with the Office of the President to set Duterte’s schedule.
Among the provinces that the President will possibly visit are Cebu, Bohol, and Boracay in Aklan, Boncato said.
“We are ready. Even local government units and the private sector in the regions are also prepared for the President’s visit,” Boncato told reporters in a Malacañang briefing.
Also on Monday, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian on Monday urged the Philippines to reexamine the travel ban that it earlier imposed on China and its special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.
Huang said any decision that will be imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 should be based on science.
“We hope to see scientific and calm response and scientific measuresto be taken, to prevent the spread of the virus here. We hope there will be a reassessment of the situation so that unnecessary measures
will be lifted,” Huang said in a speech before the Association for Philippines-China Understanding.
“On the other hand, of course, we respect the decision of the government of the Philippines. I understand its concern to safeguard the health and safety of its people,” Huang said.
Huang noted that Chinese tourists make 160 million outbound trips each year.
“There will be big blow on tourism industry of this country,” Huang warned, even as he cited reports from the Department of Tourism that losses in the industry could reach P42.9 billion from February to April this year.
Meanwhile, Taiwan reported its first death from the new coronavirus Sunday.
A 61-year-old man from central Taiwan with underlying health problems but no recent overseas travel history died in hospital on Saturday after testing positive for the virus, officials confirmed.
It is the fifth recorded death outside mainland China – previous victims were in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan, and France.
“This latest case was an unlicensed taxi driver. His main clients were people who had been to China, Hong Kong, and Macao,” health and welfare minister Chen Shih-chung told reporters.
Chen said authorities were examining the driver’s client list and their travel history, in an attempt to trace the possible source of infection.
A 50-year-old male relative of the victim was later confirmed to have contracted the virus, Chen added, although he was not showing any symptoms.
Taiwan’s confirmed cases now stands at 20.
France reported the first coronavirus fatality outside Asia on Saturday, fuelling global concerns about the epidemic.
READ: Global health emergency eyed over outbreak
Nearly 1,000 Taiwanese are still awaiting repatriation in Hubei province—the epicenter of the outbreak— fter Beijing and Taipei accused each other of “political manipulation,” causing delays.
Taiwan did fly 247 people from Hubei’s capital Wuhan on mainland-owned China Eastern Airlines flight on Feb. 3.
But how that evacuation was carried out caused disagreements.
The relationship between the two is complicated by the fact that Beijing views Taiwanese people as its own citizens, not as foreign nationals.
On Monday, Philippine Airlines said it has started implementing additional measures to protect the health and safety of air travelers who will be required to undergo stringent screening at the airport check-in counters.
Beginning last Sunday, the airline’s self-printed digital boarding passes became temporarily unavailable for all international and domestic flights.
Passengers may still use the self-service check-in facility but will only receive a confirmation document confirming that their check-in request has been processed; however, a printable digital boarding pass will not be issued. With AFPREAD: 4 more Pinoys aboard cruise ship test positiveREAD: Nations take drastic steps to rim spreadREAD: Public warned: No cure for n-CoV; only hygiene
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