By Gerard Naval and Ashzel Hachero
SIX more Filipinos aboard the MV Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama, Japan have tested positive for the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), raising the number of Filipinos in the ship afflicted with the virus to 41.
“As of the moment, we have 41 positive cases already for our Filipino crew members on board MV Diamond Princess,” Department of Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a press briefing.
Last Tuesday, eight more Pinoy crew members of the ship tested positive for the virus that has claimed the lives of more than 2,000 people in mainland China and infected over 74,000.
There are a total of 538 Filipinos in the cruise ship, 531 of them crew members and 7 as guest passengers.
Vergeire said they are finalizing repatriation plans for the Filipinos aboard the ship. The 14-day quarantine period imposed by the Japanese government on all persons aboard the ship ended yesterday.
Among the guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), Vergeire said, is that the repatriation will be on a voluntary basis.
“This is voluntary. They will be asked who are willing to go home, who wants to go home,” she said, adding only those without symptoms of the disease will be allowed to join the repatriation.
“All who will be repatriated should be asymptomatic; they must not have any symptoms.
They should also test negative before they get on board our chartered plane,” she said.
She also said those who will seek repatriation will undergo another 14-day quarantine period upon their arrival.
“There were facilities that were discussed and identified. But we still cannot provide the exact facility, where they will be brought, because we still need to do some coordination,” said Vergeire.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. yesterday directed the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo to bring home the Filipinos aboard the cruise ship.
“I have ordered our Tokyo Embassy to immediately repatriate our people in the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan. It is our duty to take care of our overseas Filipinos wherever they are,” Locsin said. “I want them home now.”
DFA Undersecretary for Civilian Security and Consular Concerns Brigido Dulay Jr. 410 Filipino aboard the ship want to return to Manila.
“The rest opted to stay since they are thinking of their employment contracts,” Dulay said.
OFW IN HONG KONG
The Filipina household worker who has tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong is in good spirits but remained in isolation at the Pamela Youde hospital.
Philippine Consul General Raly Tejada said he was able to talk to the 32-year-old Filipina via telephone Wednesday to check on her condition.
“She’s in good spirit. She is well taken care of, but hospital visits are not allowed given that she is in isolation,” Tejada said.
Tejada said the consulate will continue to monitor her condition and render the necessary assistance in coordination with local health authorities.
Local health authorities are now tracing all those who have had contact with the Filipina, the 61st confirmed case of the virus in Hong Kong.
PATIENTS UNDER PROBE
The number of patients under investigation (PUIs) increased to 539 as of yesterday, according to the DOH, with 135 still isolated in different hospitals. A total of 401 have recovered and have been discharged.
According to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., it is looking to expand special benefit package for COVID-19 patients.
In a press conference, PhilHealth Senior Vice President Israel Pargas said they are considering increasing the P14,000 benefit package for PUIs.
Meanwhile, all but one of the 49 Filipinos repatriated from Wuhan, China and currently quarantined at the Athlete’s Village of the New Clark City in Tarlac, have not shown symptoms of the disease.
Vergeire said only a 38-year-old pregnant female is presently at a nearby medical facility being treated for high blood pressure and swelling. She said the female is accompanied by her husband, who is also among those quarantined.
“The rest are okay. They are asymptomatic. Hopefully, they can already complete the quarantine period this coming Saturday,” said Vergeire.
Majority of the 49 quarantined individuals are 32 repatriated overseas Filipinos from Wuhan, composed of 14 females and 18 males. Also quarantined are eight members of the Philippine repatriation team, six plane crew members, and three ground crew operators.
TRAVEL BAN LIFTING
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration announced that it will stop providing assistance to stranded overseas Filipino workers bound for Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.
The government lift the travel ban to Taiwan last monday and partially lifted bans on Macau and Hong Kong.
“We already stopped giving cash assistance to Taiwan-bound OFWs. Starting tomorrow, we won’t accept applications of those OFWs headed to Hong Kong and Macau anymore,” said OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac in his Twitter account (@HansLeoCacdac).
So far, OWWA has already released P80.6 million to 8,060 OFWs adversely affected by the travel ban to China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
The Society of Hong Kong Recruiters Accredited to the Philippines (SHARP) called on the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to issue the waiver form to be signed by departing Hong Kong-bound OFWs.
SHARP estimates show that some 10,000 OFWs, composed of 3,000 new hires and 7,000 vacationing workers, have been waiting for their flights to Hong Kong since the imposition of the travel ban.