BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR and GERARD NAVAL
THE first batch of Filipinos to be repatriated from Hubei province in China will be brought immediately to a quarantine area in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija upon their arrival at Clark Airport on Saturday.
Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said the repatriates “will not pass through the regular immigration area and instead be transported to the quarantine area” where they will stay for 14 days.
The first batch of Filipinos is composed of 42 Filipinos.
China’s Wuhan City, said to be the epicenter of the 2019 novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (nCoV), is in Hubei province.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said the President, during the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday night, instructed Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to prepare the area where the returning Filipinos would be quarantined “to properly address the people affected in detail.”
“The Chief Executive then noted that officials on the ground, particularly barangay captains, should act in accordance with the tempo dictated by the national government or face charges for non-feasance,” he added.
Local government officials are against the use of “Mega Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Center (DATRC)” in Fort Magsaysay as quarantine area.
Fort Magsaysay is home to the Army’s 7th Infantry Division and the Special Operations Command, and is used for the training of soldiers.
Domingo said the drug rehabilitation facility is a suitable quarantine area for Filipinos repatriated from China.
“The DATRC is huge as it was initially built for 10,000 people. And the number of those to be repatriated is not even that big. It would be easier for us to keep everyone in just one place,” he said.
He said the center has several function rooms, which will allow the separation of all quarantined individuals from others using the facility.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Nueva Ecija residents should not be scared as safety measures are in place.
“All quarantine measures will be at its highest level there… all our medical health workers going in and out of that facility will undergo such extensive quarantine medical protocols.
So that’s probably going to be the safest place in terms of quarantine protocols and procedure. So dapat hindi sila mag-alala (So they should not worry),” he said.
Nograles also said the President would like to visit the quarantine site but a long discussion is expected between the Presidential Security Group and the Presidential Management Staff.
“Knowing the President, he wants to do that. He wants to go; he wants to be with the people. But, again, it will be a different thing with PMS and PSG. They have their own protocol as well,” he said.
Panelo said the President ordered the Presidential Communications Operations Office to step up government’s information drive about the nCoV and ensure that the public is aware of the health advisories to keep them safe.
At the House, two leaders filed bills seeking a supplemental budget to help the Department of Health to battle nCoV.
Rep. Angelina Tan, chair of the House committee on health filed House Bill No. 6166 which seeks a supplemental budget of P2.040 billion, while Rep. Joey Salceda, chair of the committee on ways and means, filed HB No. 6177 which asks Congress to allocate P2.039 billion, of which P2.035 billion will be spent for masks and protective equipment, while P4.5 million will be spent for the repatriation of 40 Filipinos.
HB No. 6166 aims to help the Department of Health strengthen its health system response to contain nCoV “through the immediate procurement of adequate and appropriate surgical masks for persons under investigation and health workers as well as the needed personal protective equipment for our health manpower including the repatriation of affected Filipinos abroad, particularly in the mainland China and its administrative regions.”
Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon slammed Duque for failing to attend the hearing of the committee on Metro Manila development on the virus threat, saying he should “rethink his priorities.”
“Please tell Secretary Duque to fix his priorities,” Biazon told health officials who attended the hearing of the panel chaired by Manila Rep. Manuel Luis Lopez.
Biazon said he heard over the radio that the health secretary was on his way to Nueva Ecija to inspect a proposed containment facility for nCoV cases.
“I guess this shows the type of priorities that the secretary has. As the overall in charge of handling this crisis, I think he should have been here – not just inspect rooms,” he said.
Health Undersecretary Edmund Lopez told the panel that China has yet to claim that body of its citizen who died last February 2 at the San Lazaro Hospital after being afflicted with the virus.
“We are just waiting proper coordination with proper authority for clearance,” Lopez said, adding that there are also plans to cremate the remains.
The panel chair revealed that Cibac party-list Rep. Domingo Rivera is among those in quarantine in Hong Kong.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido Dulay told the panel that the DFA has yet to receive a report that the lawmaker is being quarantined but said he has asked the Philippine consul in Hong Kong to assist Rivera.
House Secretary General Joel Montales later clarified that Rivera is already in the country and is in “self-quarantine” from Hong Kong where he went on an official trip.
“Cong. Rivera is not quarantined in Hong Kong. He is in the Philippines. He is perfectly all right,” Montales said. “He practiced self-quarantine because he traveled to Hong Kong to attend a series of consultative meetings.”
A House memorandum issued by the Secretary General’s office last February 3 advised lawmakers to avoid traveling to countries with confirmed nCoV cases.
“To prevent the risk of exposure to the virus and reduce the spread of infection, the following is highly recommended. Avoid/Deter travel to countries with documented cases of 2019-nCoV infection. To date, these are: China Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Thailand, The Republic Korea, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and Vietnam,” it said. – With Wendell Vigilia