MANILA — Airlines in the Philippines stepped up defenses against a new SARS-like virus from China, introducing jet disinfection, protective equipment and health checks, representatives said Thursday, as authorities moved to head off a billowing regional health crisis.
The new pathogen Novel Coronavirus has killed 17, stricken more than 500 and reached other countries like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the US.
Cebu Pacific is disinfecting all its jets after every international flight, including the one that supposedly carried 4 relatives of a Chinese man in Hong Kong who tested positive for the new coronavirus, said Charo Logarta Lagamon, spokesperson of the Philippines' largest carrier.
The Chinese man's family and all other passengers of the flight that landed in Manila on Wednesday did not show any fever or flu symptoms, she said.
"Wala pong konkretong ebidensya, wala pong any sign na mayroon pong infection," she told radio DZMM.
(There is no concrete evidence, no sign of infection.)
Cebu Pacific is nonetheless "still reaching out to Hong Kong authorities to verify information and get additional details" and has advised all passengers to consult a doctor if they feel sick, she said.
AirAsia Philippines, meanwhile, gave face masks to all its employees, who would also be briefed on safety procedures on Thursday, said airline president Ricky Isla.
Cebu Pacific will study whether or not to require its cabin crew to wear face masks, too, said Lagamon.
Philippine Airlines urges China-bound travelers to wear face masks, drink lots of water and avoid crowded places to avoid getting sick, said its spokesperson Cielo Villaluna.
The carrier also urges its passengers to cooperate with thermal scans upon landing at Philippine airports, she said.
Passengers who have fever or flu will be brought to isolation areas for further checks, said Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines spokesperson Eric Apolinario.
The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
Like SARS, it can be passed among people through the respiratory tract.
The World Health Organization on Wednesday delayed a decision on whether to declare a global health emergency -- a rare instrument used only for the worst outbreaks.
With hundreds of millions of people travelling across China this week for the Lunar New Year holiday, Beijing's National Health Commission announced on Wednesday measures to curb the disease -- including sterilization and ventilation at airports and bus stations, as well as inside planes and trains.
The Chinese government has classified the outbreak in the same category as the SARS epidemic, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed with the illness as well as the ability to implement quarantine measures.
But they still have not been able to confirm the exact source of the virus that was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
Animals are suspected to be the primary source of the outbreak, with Chinese health officials saying that the virus originated from the market where wild animals were illegally sold.
But the WHO has confirmed that the virus can be passed between people, at least those in close contact, and Chinese health officials said it could mutate and spread further.
With a report from Agence France-Presse