PH records first nCoV death outside China

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    HEALTH Secretary Francisco Duque III yesterday said a Chinese male from Wuhan who tested positive for the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) died last Saturday at the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, the first fatality outside of China where new confirmed infections jumped by a daily record to top 14,000 cases.

    The deceased 44-year-old, Duque said in a press conference in Quezon City, “was admitted for pneumonia last January 25, 2020 after experiencing fever, cough, and sore throat.” He was the companion of the 38-year-old Chinese female who tested positive for the virus last Thursday also at San Lazaro, the first confirmed case of the virus in the Philippines. They arrived from Hong Kong last Jan. 21.

    Duque said the deceased tested positive last Saturday and died.

    The Philippine death is on top of the 304 China reported as of the end of Saturday, state broadcaster CCTV said on Sunday, citing the country’s National Health Commission.

    “Over the course of the patient’s admission, he developed severe pneumonia. In his last few days, the patient was stable and showed signs of improvement. However, the condition of the patient deteriorated within his last 24 hours resulting in his demise,” Duque said.

    The health chief also noted that the Chinese male is actually the companion of the 38-year-old Chinese female, who was earlier announced as the first case of the 2019-nCoV in the Philippines.

    Department of Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said the Chinese female patient is still at San Lazaro.

    “The patient has no more symptoms, no fever, no cough,” Domingo said.

    Duque said the DOH Epidemiology Bureau is tracing the whereabouts of passengers who traveled together with the Chinese couple, who visited Cebu and Dumaguete City. He said the EB has secured the manifestos of the flights and is in close coordination with the concerned airlines.

    Duque said contact tracing activities are also ongoing in Cebu and Dumaguete and in other places where the couple stayed.

    Passengers aboard the flights of the two positive cases were now being traced.

    Cebu Air Inc, which operates Cebu Pacific airline, said it was working closely with health authorities to contact all passengers aboard those two flights on Jan. 21.

    The two patients had taken Cebu Pacific flights from Hong Kong to Cebu and from Cebu to Dumaguete in central Philippines, the airline said in a statement.

    The cabin crew and pilots on affected flights have been quarantined, and the aircraft have undergone thorough disinfection, it said.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) said that while it’s the first death reported outside China, it’s not a locally acquired case.

    “This is the first reported (death) outside China. However, we need to take into mind that this is not a locally acquired case. This patient came from the epicenter of the outbreak: Wuhan, China, where there have been a very large number of cases,” said WHO Country Representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe.

    Duque said they are working closely with the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines on what to do with the remains of the deceased patient.

    “We are currently working with the Chinese Embassy to ensure the dignified management of the remains according to national and international standards to contain the disease,” said Duque.

    Domingo said preparations include the immediate cremation of the remains.

    “When a person dies from infectious illness, part of the protocol is to cremate as soon as possible,” said Domingo.

    The two positive cases are part of the 36 total persons under investigation (PUIs), according to health officials.

    Domingo said 30 PUIs have tested negative at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and at the Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia. Ten have been discharged but are still under strict monitoring.

    Among those that tested negative is the 29-year old Chinese male, who died of pneumonia at the San Lazaro Hospital last Wednesday.

    “It’s not 2019-nCoV. His samples are negative of the novel coronavirus,” said DOH Epidemiology Bureau head Dr. Ferchito Avelino.

    FAST-EVOLVING

    “This health event is fast-evolving and fluid. We are continuously recalibrating our plans and efforts as the situation develops,” Duque said.

    Some Filipinos were worried after health officials announced the first fatality of the new coronavirus in the Philippines.

    “It really is frightening because the virus will spread,” said 49-year-old Lyn Romano, who has been wearing a face mask since last week, when the Philippines’ first positive case was confirmed.

    Cebu Air and two other Philippine carriers, Philippine Airlines and the local unit of AirAsia Group Bhd, have cancelled flights to China this month, joining many others around the world that have done the same.

    The health department’s announcement came shortly after the Philippine government expanded its travel ban amid the outbreak to include all foreigners coming from China, Hong Kong and Macau. It earlier had restricted only those from Hubei.

    Foreigners who have been to China, Hong Kong and Macau within 14 days of travelling to the Philippines will also be barred from entering the country, aviation officials said.

    Filipinos have been prevented from travelling to China and its special administrative regions, while those arriving from those places placed under 14-day home quarantine.

    COMMUNICATION LINES

    The Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday said it has opened a 24/7 communication line via WeChat that Filipinos in China may contact if they need information or medical assistance.

    The DFA said Filipino doctors, psychologists and nurses trained on crisis intervention will respond to all calls and messages through the newly-opened communication line.

    “This communication line will deal with queries on the health aspect of the 2019-nCoV as well as provide psychological support to the Filipinos in China in the midst of the said threat to health,” the DFA said.

    “Filipinos in China are likewise encouraged to share this information, along with the QR Code of the DOH Wechat Hotline, to the rest of the Filipino community,” the DFA added.

    Earlier, he DFA said it intends to repatriate the first batch of Filipinos this week, subject to China’s rules on disease containment, including immigration clearances, quarantine process, among others.

    It said that Filipinos in Wuhan City and the rest of Hubei province who wish to be repatriated should contact the Philippine Consulate General in Shanghai by today, Feb. 3.

    “Upon arrival in the Philippines, Filipino repatriates will be subjected to 14 days of mandatory quarantine per guidelines of the Department of Health,” the DFA added.

    There are about 150 Filipinos in Wuhan City and a similar number in other parts of Hubei province.

    HEALTH WORKERS

    A group of medical professionals has asked the government to ensure the protection of all health workers against the virus.

    The Coalition for People’s Right to Health (CPRH) said the DOH should also safeguard the well being of nurses, doctors and other health workers, the frontliners in the fight against the disease who are most prone to being infected.

    Duque said all health workers who are in contact with infected patients have been instructed to practice stringent infection control measures and provided with appropriate personal protective equipment.

    Dr. Joshua San Pedro, co-convenor of CPHR, said the DOH should also ensure that health facilities are capable and well-funded to manage quarantine as well as the prompt diagnosis and treatment of such cases.

    “Hand washing and proper diet remain of utmost importance in maintaining proper health and nutrition, to have an immune system that can combat the virus,” San Pedro said.

    The PNP yesterday placed police units on standby to assist authorities in stopping the possible hoarding of basic supplies amid the nCoV crisis.

    “The CIDG and local police units are on high readiness mode, awaiting notice if ever DTI and LGUs will seek police assistance to identify possible storehouses and track down persons suspected to be hoarding supplies and violating existing laws imposed by authorities. As of Sunday, situation remains normal but PNP chief Gen. Gamboa urges the public to avoid panic buying of basic supplies and commodities, and to remain calm, composed and informed,” said PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banaca. – With Ashzel Hachero, Raymond Africa, Noel Talacay and Reuters