Thirty Filipinos—29 adults and an infant—arrived at the Clark International Airport in Pampanga Sunday from Wuhan, in Hubei province–the epicenter of the novel coronavirus (nCoV) outbreak that has already killed more than 800 people in China.
Members of the Department of Foreign Affairs and five medical personnel—two doctors, two nurses and one medical technologist—from the Department of Health left Saturday evening on a chartered flight to fetch Filipinos at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport.
In taking on this mission, the entire team and the flight crew have shown great courage and remarkable selflessness—a willingness to put themselves in harm’s way to help their distressed countrymen.
Like the passengers they rescued, the team had to go through screening. Those who showed flu-like symptoms would be transported in an ambulance to designated hospitals. Those without symptoms would be transported in a bus to New Clark City in Tarlac, where they will be quarantined for 14 days.
The Filipinos returning from Wuhan are staying at Athlete’s Village in New Clark City, which was built in the 2019 for the 30th Southeast AsianGames.
Some agencies have been tasked to disinfect the luggage brought by the evacuated Filipinos and the vehicles used to transport them.
In contrast to the DFA and DOH team and the flight crew, local government officials of Capas, Tarlac put fear ahead of good will. On Friday, the municipal council unanimously voted to oppose the decision to use New Clark City as a quarantine area.
The vote is moot and symbolic, since New Clark City, which is located in the towns of Capas and Bamban, are under the jurisdiction of the government’s Bases Conversion and Development Authority. Still, it puts on display an uglier side to the reaction to the nCoV scare.
In voting against the quarantine facility, Capas municipal councilors said the decision made by BCDA and DOH threatens social peace in the area, sowing worry that the virus might spread in nearby residential areas and resettlement areas. One councilor said it wouldn’t be a surprise if Capas turned into another Hubei. Another said the administration should consider looking for a more isolated venue in a clear example of not-in-my-backyard syndrome.
Town officials said they were surprised by the announcement by the DOH that they would use Athlete’s Village as the quarantine facility. Presumably, they would not have opposed the same facility, had it been built on the original site planned, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.
Capas Mayor Reynaldo Catacutan said they were not informed of the sudden announcement.
“DOH did not at all involve Capas LGU in its last-minute decision for New Clark City to be used as quarantine zone,” he said in a statement read during the council’s emergency meeting.
The local officials have a point—it certainly would have been preferable to involve them in the decision. Yet, we can hardly imagine that they would feel differently even had they been told in advance.
The nCoV outbreak is a national health emergency waiting to happen, and every minute used to prevent it counts. Sometimes, political niceties must make way for immediate and urgent action, and the campaign to contain the nCoV threat clearly qualifies.
Now, all we can hope for is that the authorities know what they are doing—and that all Filipinos can pull together to avert a national health crisis.