Philippines awaits WHO guidance on China travel restriction as new virus spreads

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 23 2020 08:45 AM | Updated as of Jan 23 2020 09:46 AM

Philippines awaits WHO guidance on China travel restriction as new virus spreads 1
Officials monitor thermal scanners as passengers walk past upon arrival of a flight from Hangzhou, China at Changi Airport, Singapore Jan. 22, 2020. Yiming Woo, Reuters

MANILA — The Philippines is waiting for guidance from the World Health Organization on possibly restricting travel to and from China to prevent the spread of a deadly new virus.

The WHO is holding emergency talks about the new coronavirus that has spread across China and beyond, with 17 people killed and more than 500 infected.

"Mataas iyan sa kanilang usapin: kung magkakaroon ng travel restriction," Health Secretary Francisco Duque told radio DZMM.

"Tingin ko, kung may travel restriction, mangunguna dapat siguro ang China na sila mismo ang pagpipigil sa paglabas ng kanilang mga mamamayan," he added.

(It's high on their agenda: whether or not to impose a travel restriction. I think if there is a travel restriction, China should perhaps take the lead in barring their citizens from leaving.)

Countries do not usually impose travel restriction unilaterally because it is "an international decision" that has "many repercussions" on trade and labor, Health Secretary Eric Domingo earlier said.

Quarantine officers and thermal scanners have been deployed to all ports and airports in the country to screen passengers for fever and flu symptoms, said Duque.

China has already halted flights and trains out of Wuhan, the city of 11 million people at the center of a deadly SARS-like virus outbreak, as the UN extended emergency talks on the disease.


Health officials earlier this week confirmed that a 5-year-old boy from Wuhan, a Chinese central city where the new pathogen was first detected, had tested positive for coronavirus, its strain still unidentified.

The boy, who is in Cebu City to study English, no longer had fever and is only coughing a bit, said Duque.

Authorities are tracing the whereabouts of 12 passengers who sat close to the boy during his Jan. 13 flight to the Philippines, he added.

Test results from Australia that will determine which coronavirus strain the boy had could be due out on Friday, Domingo said in a text message to ABS-CBN News.
Coronaviruses are a large family of diseases ranging from the common cold to the deadlier Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), according to the World Health Organization.

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The family of a Chinese man who tested positive for the deadly novel coronavirus in Hong Kong reportedly traveled to Manila on Wednesday, Chinese officials said.

Duque, however, said this information was "unvalidated", according to Manila's Bureau of Quarantine, which screens travelers going into the country.

"Wala naman daw silang ganoong naengkuwentro. Sabi ko ngang ganoon, siguro baka nabigyan ng unvalidated report iyong nag-ulat sa akin kagabi," he said.

(They said they did not encounter that. I said, perhaps the person who reported that to me last night was given an unvalidated report.)

None of the passengers of the family's supposed flight showed symptoms, added Domingo.

"Wala naman pong may sakit at wala naman pong may lagnat. Nakalagpas naman po sila sa ating health inspection," he said.

(No one was sick and no one had fever. They passed our health inspection.)


Much is still unknown about the virus, which Chinese authorities said could mutate.

The pathogen, however, has a 2-percent fatality rate so far, lower than SARS which killed about 10 to12 percent of patients, said Duque.

An outbreak of SARS killed 650 people across China and Hong Kong in 2002 to 2003.

Meanwhile, the new virus' first 3 fatalities had
"underlying health problems" like cancer and diabetes, Duque noted.

He urged the public to hydrate well and eat nutritious food, especially those rich in zinc which had been proven effective against throat infections.

With a report from Agence France-Presse