HEALTH Secretary Francisco Duque III yesterday said 500 Filipino crew members are among thousands aboard a cruise ship that was barred from returning to its home port of San Francisco from a voyage to Hawaii after at least 20 people aboard fell ill, exhibiting and complaining of symptoms that may be consistent with the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Duque said California authorities are administering tests on people aboard the ship, including the Filipino crew members.
“They are doing the test right now and we have 500 Filipino crew members there,” Duque said.
Reuters reported that California Governor Gavin Newsom said the Grand Princess cruise ship would remain at sea until passengers and crew complaining of symptoms that may be consistent with the coronavirus can be tested to determine whether they have it.
Newsom later on Wednesday declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus in the state, which now has 53 confirmed cases.
Coronavirus testing kits will be flown out to the ship and flown back with samples to be analyzed at a state laboratory in the San Francisco Bay area, a process Newsom said should produce results in a matter of hours.
“So we’re holding that ship, which is thousands of passengers, off the coast, and will be conducting those tests and getting those tests back,” Newsom said.
Eleven passengers and 10 crew members have reported symptoms that could turn out to be the coronavirus, seasonal flu or the common cold, Newsom said.
Earlier on Wednesday, health officials announced the first California death from the virus, an elderly person with underlying health conditions. It was the first coronavirus fatality in the United States outside of Washington state, where 10 have died.
The fatality, a 71-year-old man, was one of two passengers of the cruise ship on a previous voyage last month between San Francisco and Mexico.
After the ship returned to San Francisco, thousands of passengers boarded to begin a round-trip voyage to Hawaii. In the course of the return from the Hawaii trip, 11 passengers and 10 crew members reportedly manifested flu-like symptoms.
The predicament of the Grand Princess cruise liner was reminiscent of the Diamond Princess vessel that was quarantined off the coast of Japan in February and was for a time the largest concentration of cornoavirus cases outside China.
In the event the cruise ship is subjected to mandatory quarantine like the one imposed on the Diamond Princess off the coast of Japan, Duque expressed hopes the mistakes committed by Japanese health authorities will not be repeated.
“Hopefully, they have learned their lesson from what had happened from the Diamond Princess in Yokohama, Japan. We hope that there won’t be a repeat of the lapses that Japanese officials themselves admitted,” said Duque.
Among them, he said, is the fact the passengers were quarantined in their individual rooms while the crew members were allowed to interact while serving the passengers without the needed personal protective equipment.
It will be recalled that 80 Filipinos aboard the Diamond Princess tested positive for coronavirus.
“We will try to intervene every time that we feel that our compatriots might be put at risk.
That is pretty much my position. We will make the representations if it’s going to put our compatriots at risk,” said Duque.
Duque said the passengers and crew members of the Grand Princess should be brought to a separate quarantine facility.
“If they can be brought to a (separate) facility, that would be ideal. Because if they stay in the ship, the crew members will really have no choice but to serve,” said Duque.
Another measure, he said, is by having the crew members repatriated as soon as possible.
“They have to be quarantined there. And if there is a decision to repatriate them, we will subject them to another round of fresh repatriation and quarantine period,” said Duque.
Newsom said state health authorities, working with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), were trying to contact some 2,500 passengers who were on that earlier voyage.
The ship would now be held off shore, “a distance away, until all the testing and the new protocols and regimes are put into place to secure their arrival.”
Depending on the outcome of the tests, it might be directed to an arrival point other than San Francisco.
He said the manifest for the ship’s Hawaii cruise included 50 to 60 passengers who were also on board the Mexico voyage.Another Filipino in Hong Kong has tested positive for the virus, bringing to three the number of Filipinos infected with the virus in the former British colony.
The Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong said the information was provided by Hong Kong authorities.
“She is in isolation and undergoing tests in a hospital,” the consulate said in an advisory issued late Wednesday night. The consulate said they were able to talk to the Filipina, adding “ she is healthy and presently not exhibiting any symptoms.”
“She is the third Filipino to have tested positive in Hong Kong. The other two have recovered but still remain in hospital for further tests,” the consulate said.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has imposed a travel ban on tourists coming from countries, including the Philippines, judged to pose a “particularly high risk” of spreading the virus that has killed more than 3,200, majority in mainland China where the virus originated, and infected more than 95,000 worldwide.
In a statement issued late Wednesday night, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the “temporary travel ban is a precautionary public health measure to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”
“Likewise, the issuance of entry visa to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the purpose of Umrah and or visiting the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina as well as the issuance of tourist visas are suspended indefinitely,” the DFA said.
The DFA said that Filipinos who hold visas for employment, work visit, business visit and family visit are still allowed entry to the kingdom.
It added that the embassy in Riyadh and the consulate in Jeddah “are closely monitoring the situation and are coordinating with the concerned government agencies of the Saudi government.”
The DFA also said that 148 Filipinos in Macau who want to return home will be repatriated this weekend.
DFA Undersecretary for Civilian Security and Consular Concerns Brigido Dulay Jr. said the group is composed of overseas workers and tourists that earlier sought assistance from the Philippine consulate in Macau to be able to return to Manila.
Dulay said the government has chartered a Philippines Air Lines flight to bring them back.
The DOH earlier said Filipinos who will return from Macau will be placed under home quarantine instead of being housed at the New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac. – With Ashzel Hachero and Reuters