500 Pinoys in cruise ship to be repatriated Feb. 23

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    FIVE hundred Filipinos on board the MV Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama, Japan are set to be repatriated on Sunday, Feb. 23, according to the Department of Health (DOH).

    Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, in a media briefing, said the Filipinos being repatriated have all agreed to return home.

    “They (Department of Foreign Affairs) are coordinating the repatriation, not 400, but 500 Filipinos, with their counterpart in Japan and with the ministry of health welfare and labor,” said Duque, adding the repatriation date has been moved two days earlier than the initial schedule of Feb. 25.

    “The Japanese government has already decided that they will close down the ship. We are getting this information from (DFA) Usec (Brigido) Dulay. But we really have to bring them out as soon as possible,” said Duque.

    The 14-day quarantine period imposed for all people aboard the Diamond Princess ended last Wednesday.

    Duque said the repatriates will land at the Clark International Airport and will be quarantined for 14-days at the Athletes Village at the New Clark City in Tarlac.

    Duque said 21 hospitals have been tapped to provide medical personnel at the Athletes Village and to serve as referral hospitals. He said the continued issue of the NCC has been decided by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).

    “The President himself, during the meeting with the local chief executives on Monday last week, said that it will be the national government, in the end, that will make the decision with regards to the repatriation of our compatriots,” said Duque.

    A total of 538 Filipinos are aboard the cruise ship, 531 of them crew members and 7 guest passengers. Of the 538, 41 were found to have been afflicted with the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

    Duque said those who have tested positive for the virus can be repatriated as soon as they are discharged from medical facilities in Japan where they are currently admitted.

    “In principle, we will be ready to repatriate them if they choose to come home. Although this will also be subjected to discussions by the IATF,” said Duque.

    Based on the daily COVID-19 tracker of the DOH, 556 persons have been investigation for the virus as February 20, with 133 of them isolated in different medical facilities and 420 having recovered and discharged.

    The DOH is not keen on using China’s antiviral drug, Favilavir, that has shown efficacy in treating the COVID-19 just yet.

    The DOH said Favilavir still needs to hurdle tests administered by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

    “If this drug would be WHO pre-qualified, it means it passed the standards set by the WHO for drugs. Secondly, if this passed the regulations of the FDA, then we can use it here,” DOH Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.

    “But until we can have those regulatory clearances, we cannot tell yet if this drug can be used here in the Philippines or not,” she said, adding they are not going to make exemptions on Favilavir despite the virus scare in the country.

    “All medicines that will be imported for the use of Filipinos must pass through our regulatory processes,” said Vergeire.

    China had announced that the antiviral drug Favilavir has been approved for marketing.

    The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday issued additional guidelines aimed at reducing the threat of the dreaded COVID-19.

    CBCP President Archbishop Romulo Valles urged all bishops and archbishops to adopt additional guidelines in time for the observance of Lent.

    Among the guidelines are doing away with the sign of the cross using ashes on foreheads on Ash Wednesday, the faithful to refrain from kissing or touching the cross for veneration on Good Friday, and discouraging the faithful from holding hands during the singing/praying of the “Our Father.”