BY Ashzel Hachero and Gerard Naval
EIGHT more Filipinos aboard the cruise ship MV Diamond Princess quarantined in Yokohama, Japan have tested positive for the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), bringing the total number of Filipinos afflicted with the virus in the ship to 35, the Department of Foreign Affairs said yesterday.
“I can confirm that as of today, eight more have been infected and taken by Japanese health authorities to their quarantine facilities,” DFA Undersecretary Brigido Dulay said.
Dulay said the new cases were asymptomatic, meaning they did not exhibit the symptoms of the virus.
He said the afflicted Filipinos were being taken care of by Japanese health authorities and the vessel owners.
Dulay said the Philippine embassy in Tokyo is in touch with the Filipinos as well as the Japanese Health Ministry.
“They are okay and healthy, though a few are already exhibiting some symptoms,” he said.
“Our embassy in Tokyo is sitting down with the president of Princess Cruises,” he added, referring to the owner of the Diamond Princess.
A Filipina household worker in Hong Kong, meanwhile, tested positive for the virus, the consulate general in the former British colony said yesterday, adding she is the 61st confirmed case in HK.
The consulate said it has sent a team to the hospital where the 32-year-old Filipino is confined to check on her condition. It added the consulate is ready to provide her the necessary assistance.
Local health authorities said they are now working to trace all those who have had contact with the Filipina.
Consul General Raly Tejada earlier said seven Filipinos have been put on quarantine for possible exposure to the virus that has killed more than 1,800, majority in mainland China.
Only last Monday, 16 more Pinoys aboard the ship tested positive for the virus, raising the number of affected Filipinos in the ship to 27.
The Department of Health earlier said they are ironing out the details of the evacuation of the Filipino crew members and passengers of the cruise ship.
Aboard the ship are about 3,700 people, including 2,600 passengers. Of these, 538 are Filipinos, including 531 crew members and seven guest passengers.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the government will repatriate only those who will request repatriation from the Philippine government.
“We ensure our kababayans aboard the M/V Diamond Princess that your health and well-being is of utmost importance,” said Duque.
The Japanese Health Ministry quarantined the ship after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong last January 25 tested positive for the virus.
The DOH yesterday said only six more individuals have been included in the list of persons under investigation for the virus, bringing the total in the country to 527.
Of the 527, 137 remained isolated in hospitals while 387 have been discharged. The number of confirmed cases remained at three, including two that have recovered and discharged, and one death.
Despite the low number of new PUIs, DOH Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said there is no reason for government to become complacent.
“We all know that there are still a lot of gaps in the information on COVID-19. So, although the (PUI) cases may appear to be lower, there is no room to be complacent,” said Vergeire.
“We should always be ready for that possibility of seeing local transmission in the future.
So we cannot say that we are already okay as the trend is going down and we shouldn’t be doing anything,” added Vergeire.
The DOH also allayed fears of organizing and attending mass public gatherings amid the threat of the virus.
In a joint statement with the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), the DOH recalled its earlier advisory discouraging the public from attending mass gatherings due to the threat of the novel virus.
“The Department of Health (DOH), Department of the Interior and Local, Government (DILG) and the Department of Tourism (DOT) would like to assure everyone that it is safe to organize and attend public gatherings, meetings, and festivals as long as all precautionary measures identified by the DOH are observed,” the statement said.
The agency said the public should continue to wash their hands regularly and seek medical attention if signs of cough, cold sore throat and fever appear.
“All preventive and precautionary measures have been put in place by the, national government to contain the spread of the COVID-19,” stressed the agencies.