MANILA (5th UPDATE) - The Philippines on Thursday confirmed its first case of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
In a press conference, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said a 38-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, was confirmed to be infected with the virus following a laboratory test in Australia.
“The DOH is confirming that a 38-year-old female Chinese patient under investigation (PUI) is positive for the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) after her lab results arrived today from the Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia,” Duque said.
The woman arrived in Manila via Hong Kong on Jan. 21. She is now in an undisclosed government hospital in Metro Manila.
"The patient sought to consult and was admitted in one of the country’s government hospitals last Jan. 25 after experiencing mild cough,” Duque said.
“She is currently asymptomatic…which means she has no fever, and no other signs and symptoms suggesting illness at this point.”
DOH spokesperson Undersecretary Eric Domingo told ABS-CBN News that when the patient sought checkup, she was experiencing mild cough and was tested because she came from Wuhan.
“Basta galing Wuhan tapos may sipon, ubo or lagnat pinapa-test natin,” he said.
(If the patient comes from Wuhan and has a cold, cough or fever, we get them tested.)
Domingo told radio DZMM the woman took multiple flights to arrive in Manila from Wuhan.
From Wuhan, the woman flew to Hong Kong then hopped on a flight to Cebu. Then she took a flight to Dumaguete, and from there to Manila.
The woman took Cebu Pacific, Cebgo and Philippine Airlines flights respectively throughout that travel, said Domingo.
"Yung mga flights kinokontak na. Nahingi na din natin yung listahan ng mga pasahero ng mga eroplano na iyon, at nahanap na iyong mga nai-stayan na mga resort ng mga ito sa Dumaguete," the health official said.
Duque said health authorities were working closely with the hospital where the patient is confined. The hospital's "incident command system" has been activated for "infection control, case management and containment," he added.
"We are also implementing measures to protect the health staff providing care to this patient," Duque said.
The health chief said the DOH "continues to guarantee the public that all necessary precautionary measures are being taken to halt the spread of the virus."
"I assure the public that the DOH is on top of this evolving situation. We were able to detect the first confirmed case because of our strong surveillance system, close coordination with the World Health Organization and other national agencies, and the utilization of DOH’s decision tool, or the evaluation assessment tool," he said.
The Chinese woman's boyfriend, who came with her to Manila, was also put in isolation for observation, said Domingo.
Chito Avelino, director of the DOH Epidemiology Bureau, said health authorities have begun contact-tracing, or tracking people who may have been exposed to the patient.
He said they would trace details of the woman's flights and track passengers who were seated close to her.
“We are looking at the places where they’ve been to in Cebu and in Dumaguete,” he said, implying that the patient was with a group.
"For the plane, we do the rules of 4 – that means, we need to identify four passengers in front, four passengers at the back, and four passengers on both sides [of the patient]. Then we contact these passengers and advise them accordingly," Avelino said.
He said health authorities would also look at places where she stayed to determine people who had contact with the patient, including employees of the establishments she visited.
"And from there, do the mandatory quarantine to observe them if ever they will manifest any signs and symptoms of respiratory infection," he added.
PATIENTS UNDER INVESTIGATION
Duque said that of the 29 patients under investigation (PUIs) for the virus, 18 are in Metro Manila, 4 in Central Visayas, 3 in Western Visayas, and 1 each in Mimaropa, Eastern Visayas, Northern Mindanao, and the Davao region.
Of the total, 23 are still in hospital, while 5 have been "discharged but are under strict monitoring," Duque said.
Another patient under investigation died on Wednesday, he said.
A Chinese man checked for the 2019-nCoV died of pneumonia at the San Lazaro Hospital on Wednesday. It has not been confirmed if the patient, who was from Yunnan, China, also carried the virus.
CALM, GOOD HYGIENE
Duque called for calm amid the first confirmed 2019-nCoV case in the country.
"I urge the public to stay calm and remain vigilant at all times. Let us continue to practice good personal hygiene, and indeed adopt healthy lifestyles," he said.
The 2019-nCoV has killed at least 170 and infected nearly 8,000, spreading from its epicenter in Wuhan, China to several countries in Asia, including the Middle East, Europe, and North America.
Its symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties, according to the World Health Organization.
To better protect the country from the virus, the Philippines earlier suspended flights to and from Wuhan and halted, for the meantime, the issuance of visas upon arrival for Chinese travelers.
Duque also said he would recommend a temporary ban on travelers coming from Hubei province where Wuhan is located.
He reminded the public to practice proper hygiene such as regularly washing hands and observing “cough etiquette” by staying one meter away from people when coughing.
Duque also reiterated the need to hydrate based on information that coronaviruses survive longer in dry or low humidity environments.
“I strongly recommend as your doctor, you have to drink a lot of water, make sure your throat is moist so that virus won’t attach to it and eventually get absorbed,” he said.
-- with reports from Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News