THE World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday sought to allay fears the 2019 novel coronavirus (nCoV) can spread through the air, saying there is no evidence so far to prove this.
WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said: “We’ve heard the rumors. Our position is that we don’t have evidence to support that. We don’t have clear evidence that this is an airborne infection.
“There are many things that are being reported by various countries and researchers.
Unless we have clear evidence to confirm that, we cannot accept those theories,” he said, adding as far as the WHO is concerned, the virus that has so far claimed more than 1,000 lives can only spread through droplets.
“There are many things about this disease that we do not know yet. But evidence points to the fact that this is largely a respiratory infection that can be transmitted via droplets or through close contact,” said Abeyasinghe.
He was reacting to earlier reports quoting Shen Yinzhong, the medical director of the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center, who said nCoV could “in theory” spread through the air.
Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau deputy head Zeng Qun has also been quoted as saying the virus can spread via aerosol transmission, just like the severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus (SARS-CoV) that claimed nearly 800 lives in 2002 and 2003.
The WHO also sought to correct misconceptions that the nCoV is more infectious and deadlier than SARS.
“As comparison to SARS, this disease is much milder… There are far more, a larger number of people who are mildly symptomatic,” said Abeyasinghe, adding the fatality rate of nCoV is currently at 2 percent while SARS was at 14 percent.
“We had about 8,000 cases and 780 deaths for SARS. This time around, we have five times as many cases already at 40,000 and just a thousand deaths. So you see the difference. Numerically, we are seeing more deaths. But if you look at the rate, it’s much lower,” he said.
“More cases do not mean it is more infectious. You need to recognize that in SARS, we didn’t start counting or detecting and confirming the SARS diagnosis for a month because we did not know the pathogen for one month. In this case, we have a very early start,” Abeyasinghe explained.
PUIS IN PH
The number of persons under investigation (PUIs) in the Philippines now stands at 382, based on the 2019-nCoV Tracker released by the Department of Health.
Of the 382, the number of positive 2019-nCoV cases remains at 3, including two discharged and one death.
Fr those with negative or pending PUIs, a total of 266 remained in hospitals, 111 have been discharged, and two have died.
All regions have at least 1 PUI, except Zamboanga Peninsula and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
TAIWAN MAKES APPEAL
Taiwan urged the Philippines on Tuesday to lift a travel ban on its citizens after Manila included them in curbs on arrivals from China in a bid to control the coronavirus epidemic, despite Taiwan’s small number of cases.
Taiwan is governed entirely separately from China, but Beijing claims the island as its own and the WHO clubs its virus cases in the category for China.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said it had been in close touch with the Philippines to seek a lifting of Monday’s sudden ban, which stranded some Taiwanese at Philippine airports.
“We are proactively in communication and have lodged representations with the Philippines, including the presidential office and foreign ministry, to tell them that we are not a virus area of China’s,” spokeswoman Joanne Ou said in Taipei.
Taiwan has just 18 virus infections, versus more than 42,000 in China. It has complained the WHO classification has misled countries into believing it poses the same health risk as China, prompting them to impose the same flight and travel curbs on it.
Taiwan and the Philippines have close economic and cultural ties, but no formal diplomatic relations, as the Philippines, like most countries, only recognizes the government in Beijing, and not in Taipei.
More than 115,000 Philippine citizens live and work in Taiwan, mainly in factories and employed as household help.
After Italy banned Taiwan flights this month, Philippine immigration officials late on Monday placed an immediate travel ban on Taiwanese, following the same previously announced curbs that covered China, including Hong Kong and Macau.
“While not explicitly stated, we have confirmed…that Taiwan is indeed part of the ban, and this expansion shall be implemented immediately,” Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said in a statement.
Philippine airlines have cancelled flights to and from Taiwan, with Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific saying the cancellations aimed to manage the risks from the fast spreading virus outbreak.
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines has expressed its grave concern about the travel ban.
In a statement, it said the Republic of China (Taiwan) is a sovereign and independent state. Taiwan issues its own passport and visas and has exclusive jurisdiction over its people and territory. In fact, Taiwan is not, nor has it ever been, part of the PRC. Taiwan has taken all measures needed to contain the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
No other country in Asia, except the Philippines, has issued a travel ban on Taiwan.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said the country would go by the advice of the WHO on travel bans against travelers.
“The travel ban, I understand, that included China was the basis of the World Health Organization including Taiwan as part of China. And since there’s a ban on China, necessarily, Taiwan being part of China is included. And we always follow the recommendation of the World Health Organization. So if the World Health Organization says there is a need for lifting of the ban in any part of those already announced who have travel ban, then we will, I suppose, do so,” he said.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año yesterday ordered the PNP to track down and arrest people spreading false information about nCoV, saying they are making the problem worse.
“We will go after the perpetrators of false information on coronavirus because their acts are inimical to the interest of the general public,” Año said.
DILG spokesman Jonathan Malaya said the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group is currently looking into six fake news posts about the virus on social media and “we expect arrests to be made soon.”
One of the fake news came out last Friday, alleging the DILG has decided to place on mandatory quarantine all travelers from 23 countries where are there are confirmed cases of corona virus.
“We need to put a stop to their nuisance activity. Let’s not propagate erroneous information that is more viral than the virus itself. We already have enough on our plate,” Año said.
Vaccine advocates called for the conduct of a thorough study on the efficacy of two anti-pneumonia vaccines, the PCV-13 that protects children from 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria and the PCV-10 that covers 10 types of bacteria.
The DOH has been using PCV-13 since 2014. – With Victor Reyes, Jocelyn Montemayor, Myla Iglesias, Rod Lagusad, Osias Osorio, and Reuters