COVID cases up to 49

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    SIXTEEN new Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) cases were confirmed yesterday by the Department of Health (DOH), bringing the country’s total to 49, with the number of critical cases rising to three.

    In a press conference, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the agency has deployed surveillance teams that are now “conducting extensive information-gathering and contact tracing activities on the new cases.”

    As of press time last night, the DOH has yet to provide the profiles of the 16 new cases but Vergeire said the rising number of cases has brought the country closer to having community transmission, which can be considered once it is determined that the cases are linked to each other.

    Vergeire said the number of critical cases has risen to three with the inclusion of Patient 29, one of the nine new reported cases last Tuesday, who is the wife of Patient 9, one of those reported last Monday.

    “PH29, a known contact of PH9, is intubated and has underlying cardiovascular and endocrine conditions,” Vergeire said.

    She said patient 29 is an 82-year-old Filipino female with history of exposure to a COVID-19 case who is asymptomatic and is now admitted at the Medical City.

    Last Tuesday, the DOH said two of the confirmed COVID-19 cases remain in “guarded conditions.” The two are Patients 5 and 9 or the 62-year-old Filipino male at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and the 86-year-old American male at the Medical City.

    Patient 5 has severe pneumonia, hypertension, and diabetes mellitus while Patient 9 has pre-existing hypertension.

    The DOH said patients 25 to 28 and 30 to 33 are all in stable condition.

    “DOH is continuously monitoring the statuses of all patients to ensure that no complications arise throughout their recovery,” said Vergeire.

    SURGE IN TESTING

    Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director General Eric Domingo said there will be no “drastic” changes in the established protocols on who should get tested for the disease.

    This, he said, despite the agency’s approval of the SARS CoV-2 PCR Detection Kit owned by the University of the Philippines-National Institute of Health.

    “It was decided by the technical advisory group that there won’t be any changes drastically,” Domingo said, explaining this is because the UP-NIH test kits can only accommodate about 1,000 tests per week.

    “There will still be a selection on who can be tested. It cannot be made widely available because its Certificate of Exemption prevents it from being sold commercially,” said Domingo.

    He said the testing capacity of the RITM only handles an average of 300 tests per day.

    CLARK CITY QUARANTINE

    The DOH reported that it has already sent home 442 of the 445 repatriates from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan after they completed the mandatory 14-day quarantine period at the New Clark City in Tarlac.

    Sent home were 437 crew members and 5 passengers who all tested negative. Still confined at the Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital, a referral hospital of the DOH, are two crew members who have tested positive for the disease.

    Vergeire said the identified close contacts of the two confirmed cases will undergo additional 14-day home quarantine and will be continuously monitored by their respective municipal/city health offices.

    The Marikina government yesterday said it plans to buy 3,000 testing kits as part of its campaign against the virus while the Wack Wack golf course in Mandaluyong will be closed for at least two days for disinfection because a foreign guest infected with the virus was there last March 2.

    5TH POSITIVE IN HK

    A fifth Filipino in Hong Kong has tested positive for the virus, the Philippine Consulate said on Tuesday night.

    “The Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong received information that a fifth Filipino has tested positive for COVID-19. Following the discharge of one patient last Friday, the total number of Filipino COVID-19 positive patients now stands at four,” Consul General Raly Tejada said, adding they are extending assistance to the four.

    Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said they are working to finalize the repatriation of 529 crew and 9 passengers of the cruise ship Grand Princess anchored off San Francisco.

    “We just need the US or California state government to give us time to find a landing field that will take a big PAL plane. San Francisco can’t allow us to repatriate from its airport,” Locsin said.

    Locsin said his instruction is that all Filipinos aboard the cruise ship will “leave together.”

    “We don’t distinguish,” he added.

    The cruise ship arrived at a sealed-off wharf at the port of Oakland in California on Monday after being stranded at sea with 21 cases of COVID-19 infection. Of the 2, 400 passengers, 676 were taken ashore as of Tuesday afternoon.

    DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola said the consulate in San Francisco led by Henry Bensurto Jr. is coordinating the process with US authorities.

    OWWA READIES ASSISTANCE

    The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) yesterday said it is ready to provide assistance to overseas Filipino workers who are stranded in the Middle East due to travel bans imposed by several countries.

    In his Twitter account, OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac said stranded OFWs may approach their personnel in the airports or call the agency’s hotline so they can be provided immediate assistance.

    “To OFWs affected by Middle East flight cancellations, please approach our roving OWWA officer or OWWA NAIA counter for assistance or call the OWWA Hotline 1348,” said Cacdac (@HansLeoCacdac).

    In a separate interview, he said the OWWA is ready to provide food, transportation, and accommodation assistance to stranded OFWs. By stranded, he said, refers to those who are in need of food or a place to stay or a way to go back home.

    The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration said that some 19,000 overseas Filipino workers are expected to feel the brunt of the travel ban imposed by of Qatar and Kuwait.

    According to POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia, thousands of OFWs may remain stranded in the Philippines if the ban extends to about a month due to the COVID-19 threat.

    “Hopefully, this will end soon. Otherwise, many OFWs really can’t be deployed,” said Olalia. – With Ashzel Hachero and Christian Oineza