The number of cases of novel coronavirus-2019 (COVID-19) infections in the Philippines rose to five Friday after Health Secretary Francisco Duque III confirmed the first two local cases.
In a media briefing, Duque said the fourth confirmed case is a 48-year-old male Filipino with travel history to Japan.
The patient returned to the Philippines on Feb. 25 and experienced chills and fever beginning March 3. He sought medical attention at a hospital and samples were collected for testing.
Results tested positive for COVID-19 on March 5. He is currently stable and admitted at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, the Health chief said.
The fifth confirmed case, Duque said, is a 62-year-old male Filipino with known hypertension and diabetes mellitus, who experienced cough with phlegm on Feb. 25.
The patient sought medical help at a hospital in Metro Manila on March 1 and was admitted with severe pneumonia.
Specimens collected on March 4 tested positive for COVID-19 on March 5. He has no known history of travel outside of the country.
Meanwhile, Duque said they have received reports of three confirmed COVID-19 cases among foreign nationals who had a history of travel to the Philippines.
He said contact tracing is being done for the two new local cases and samples have already been collected from close contacts.
The Department of Health is coordinating with the concerned local government units to identify persons who interacted with the confirmed cases and to strengthen infection prevention and control protocols.
The fifth case is known to have regularly visited a Muslim prayer hall in Barangay Greenhills, San Juan City.
Previous visitors to the prayer hall who are presenting with fever or respiratory symptoms are encouraged to call the DOH hotline (02)8-651-7800 loc. 1149-1150 for proper referral to the appropriate health facility.
Duque said the two Filipino patients, both residents of Metro Manila, are staying at the RITM in Muntinlupa City.
No other information was given to protect the privacy of the two patients.
Duque said the patients are considered local cases, but said there has been no local transmission as yet.
“It is a local case. There is no transmission to speak of as of yet because we only have one,” he said.
Duque said the recent developments are significant.
“We can still contain the spread of the virus in the country, which is why we are encouraging the public to practice proper handwashing, social distancing, and cough etiquette. We call on the public to be vigilant and continue doing their part in containing the disease,” Duque said.
In reaction to the local cases, Cardinal Santos Medical Center said in a Facebook post that it took care of one of the patients before transferring him to the RITM.
“CSMC has taken all the precautionary measures that all those who had contact with the patients have been processed following the protocols of DOH on quarantine, monitoring, and observation,” hospital officials said in a statement.
San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora, in a separate statement, said he had instructed the City Health Office “to immediately disinfect, sanitize, and close to the public temporarily” the prayer room the patient used in Barangay Greenhills.
Greenhills Mall, also in San Juan, “is enacting precautionary measures to ensure the safety of our shoppers, tenants and employees,” its management said in a statement.
The first three confirmed cases in the country involved Chinese nationals. The confirmed cases are that of a 44-year-old Chinese national from Wuhan City in China’s Hubei province who died on Feb. 1; his partner, a 38-year-old Chinese tourist; and a 60-year-old Chinese woman who has already returned to China.
The DOH said there are more than 600 patients under investigation for COVID-19 nationwide, most of them from Metro Manila.
As for the foreign COVID cases who traveled to the Philippines, the first case is a 38-year-old Taiwanese male who visited the country from Feb. 28 to March 3. He developed abdominal discomfort and diarrhea on March 2 and experienced sore throat, fever, and malaise on March 3.
The patient consulted at an outpatient clinic in Taiwan on March 4 and was confirmed positive for COVID-19 on March 5. The onset of symptoms on March 2 points to possible infection before the patient traveled to the Philippines.
The second case is a 44-year-old Japanese male who visited the Philippines from Feb. 21 to 28. Prior to visiting the Philippines, he traveled to Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Japan.
He stayed at three different hotels during his visit to Metro Manila.
He flew back to Thailand on Feb. 28 and experienced cough, shortness of breath, and fever which began on Feb. 29.
The patient consulted at a clinic in Cambodia on March 3 and was referred to a hospital but no tests were done. He flew back to Japan on March 4 and was tested positive for COVID-19.
He has remained in isolation at Aichi Prefecture Hospital. The extensive travel history of the patient suggests possible contraction of the disease in another country.
The third case is a female living in Sydney, Australia who attended a wedding in Manila on Feb. 13 and visited Pangasinan.
The patient left the country for Sydney on March 2 and was confirmed with COVID-19 by the New South Wales Government on March 3.
DOH is still verifying information with the International Health Regulation National Focal Point Australia.
In the Senate, Senator Risa Hontiveros asked the DOH to step up its campaign to detect and contain transmission of COVID-19.
The senator made the call after DOH’s report of the first two Filipino cases of COVID-19, one of whom had no history of travel abroad. “This is the first case of local transmission of COVID-19. This means people are infecting others inside the country,” Hontiveros said in a mix of English and Filipino.
“Detection and containment will improve if our community health surveillance and monitoring also improve,” Hontiveros said, noting that local government units must become involved in the fight against the virus.
“A weak health system poses a risk to public health. We need the DOH to be hawk-eyed and transparent with the public every step of the way,” she said.
Malacañang on Friday said the public should not be alarmed by the confirmation that two Filipinos tested positive for the COVID-19.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the government is prepared to respond to the novel coronavirus threat with protocols already in place.
“There is no need for alarm and worry because from the very start we are ready,” Panelo said.
Panelo added the Health department has been transparent in updating the public about the disease even though the governments of Taiwan and Australia were the first to report that they have infected citizens who had a history of travel to the Philippines.
The Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed on Friday that there are at least 530 Filipino crew members of a cruise ship now anchored off Northern California on suspicion of carrying COVID-19.
“We confirm that there are Filipino crew members on board the MV Grand Princess, and in similar number as the Diamond Princess of around 530–540 Filipino crew out of 1,111 total crew,” said Assistant Secretary Eduardo Meñez in a text message to reporters.
“We do not have confirmations about Filipino passengers yet,” he added.
The DFA official said there are “passengers and crew of unidentified nationalities who are exhibiting symptoms and are being tested accordingly” aboard the Grand Princess.
Meanwhile, at least 140 overseas Filipino workers from Macau will be repatriated next week but will be subjected to home quarantine, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said Friday.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Belo III said only 40 of the Filipino workers were documented while the 100 were undocumented workers in Macau.
“They will be arriving here on March 11 after they were forced to go on leave from their jobs in light of the global coronavirus epidemic,” Bello said in a radio interview.
The Filipinos will be flown back to the country via a chartered flight arranged by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Macau, a special administrative region of China, hosts an estimated 35,000 Filipinos as of January this year, according to the DFA. The Philippines banned all travel to and from China and its administrative regions—Hong Kong and Macau—to combat the spread of COVID-19.
The Hong Kong and Macau travel ban was later lifted for Filipino workers there as well as students and permanent residents.
The DOLE said it will now require recruitment agencies to monitor the health of workers whom they deploy to China’s special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau, for possible symptoms of COVID-19 and the government response needed.
On Thursday, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration released a memorandum requiring Philippine recruitment agencies “to strictly monitor the conditions of their deployed overseas Filipino workers and should establish accessible lines of communications for reports on emergency cases.” With MJ Blancaflor