BY Ashzel Hachero and Gerard Naval
SIXTEEN more Filipino crew members of a cruise ship quarantined in Japan have tested positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), according to the Department of Foreign Affairs, raising the number of affected Filipinos in the ship to 27.
The DFA said the 16 additional cases aboard the MV Diamond Princess were confirmed last Saturday, Feb. 15, 11 days after the ship was initially quarantined off Yokohama.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs, through the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo, reports that as of February 16, 2020, the number of Filipinos on board who tested positive for COVID-19 is at 27,” the DFA said.
“The Embassy is in close coordination with the relevant Philippine and Japanese government agencies, and representatives of the World Health Organization and Princess Cruises to ensure that the needs of the Filipino crew and passengers are met and to facilitate their return to the Philippines,”’ the DFA added.
“All of the 27 are now in hospitals and are doing well. They are being cared of by the Japanese government,” Labor Undersecretary Ana Dione said, adding the plan is for the overseas Filipino workers to be brought home as soon as they are discharged from the hospital.
Earlier, the Japanese Health Ministry said that all crew and passengers of MV Diamond Princess will undergo another test starting Monday to check for the coronavirus. It added the results of the tests will be available by the time the cruise ship quarantine period ends on Feb. 19, Wednesday.
A total of 3,700 people have been confined at the ship since it docked off the Yokohama port, including 2, 600 passengers. Of these, 538 are Filipinos – 531 crew members and seven guest passengers.
The Japan health ministry imposed the quarantine after it discovered that a Hong Kong man who disembarked in Hong Kong on Jan. 25 had tested positive for the virus.
Dione said they are making plans on how to repatriate all the Filipino crew members aboard the ship once their quarantine period ends.
“We will repatriate all of the crew members, but we have to observe the protocols of the Japanese government,” Dione said.
The Department of Health, meanwhile, is scrambling to come up with a plan on how to handle the Filipinos quarantined in the cruise ship once they are repatriated.
“Currently, we are still on that discussion and planning stage,” DOH Assistant Secretary Rosario Vergeire said in a press conference.
Among the plans being discussed, she added, is whether there is a need to place them under quarantine anew.
“We’re considering that all of these people will be considered for quarantine once they come back,” said Vergeire, adding another matter to be discussed is the facility where the repatriates could be brought to once they return home from Japan.
She said they intend to repatriate the 538 Filipinos onboard the cruise ship as soon as the quarantine period ends.
“(The Japanese government) is requesting if we can do the repatriation once the quarantine period is over,” said Vergeire.
Vergeire said the DOH has presented to the inter-agency task force its proposals on what should be the basis in imposing travel ban to a particular country in relation to the threat of the COVID-19.
“In the recommendation tool that we provided, other agencies must also give their inputs so that we will know what is for tourism, labor, health,” she explained. “We have to make it as comprehensive as possible. Health should not be our only basis.”
She issued the statement days after the Philippine government lifted the travel ban to Taiwan. The lifting comes after the Taiwanese government questioned their inclusion over political reasons, particularly the “One China policy.”
Asked if they are considering lifting the travel ban to Macau and Hong Kong, Vergeire there is no such talk for now.
She said the possibility of other countries with local transmission of the virus, such as Singapore and Thailand, being included in the ban is also not yet being discussed.
“We are not yet at that level. But definitely, we will be having basis on how to include or exclude countries or travelers coming from a particular country to our country,” said Vergeire.
PATIENTS UNDER PROBE
The DOH said the number of patients under investigation (PUIs) in the country has reached 521, with 453 having tested negative for the virus.
There are 22 cases with pending test results, while 43 others have yet to submit specimens for testing.
The DOH said 171 PUIs are still being monitored in various health facilities.
According to the DOH-Epidemiology Bureau, 45 of all the 280 close contacts of the first two confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country have been considered as PUIs.
Of the 280, 221 have completed the required home quarantine procedure while 14 are still on home quarantine.
Only 255 out of 740 contacts of the third confirmed COVD-19 case have been traced, including co-passengers and individual contacts from hotels and hospitals.
“We are working with the PNP and concerned local government units to expedite our contact tracing for the third confirmed case,” said Vergeire.
Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian yesterday assured the international community the situation of the novel coronavirus in his home country is “improving remarkably.”
Huang said the measures put in place by the Chinese government, including lockdowns of cities such as Wuhan in Hubei province, to contain the virus were efficient and that they would be able to beat the virus.
Wuhan City is at the epicenter of the virus which has already killed more than 1,700 in mainland China. It has accounted for the vast majority of mainland China’s 70, 548 cases.
Huang also said that President Duterte has written a letter to President Xi Jinping expressing Manila’s solidarity over the virus that has plagued mainland China since December.
“I received an advance copy from Malacanang (of) the letter written by President Duterte to President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping expressing his strong solidarity with the Chinese president, the Chinese government and the Chinese people and we are very appreciative of that,” Huang said.
He also thanked the government and the Filipinos who donated cash and relief goods to Hubei province, saying the Chinese people will not forget that kindness.
Despite the threat of the coronavirus disease, the Diocese of Kalookan is not about to cancel its masses and other religious activities during the coming Lenten season.
In a radio interview, Kalookan Bishop Pablo David said they are not inclined to follow the steps undertaken by the Archdiocese of Singapore and the Diocese of Hong Kong.
“This coming Lent, we are not cancelling masses and our religious activities,” said David, the vice president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. He, however, said they are set to adopt several measures that will lessen the risks of virus transmission, among them doing away with the marking of the cross using ashes when the Catholic faithful observe Ash Wednesday on Feb. 26.
Last week, the Diocese of Hong Kong announced that all public Masses from February 15 to 28 would be suspended. Similarly, the Archdiocese of Singapore said it is suspending all public Masses from Feb 15 until further notice.