MANILA (UPDATE) - Authorities are monitoring 31 people who traveled to China recently and showed symptoms related to the new coronavirus, the Department of Health (DOH) said Friday.
The tally includes a 38-year-old woman from Wuhan, China -- the epicenter of the outbreak -- who earlier tested positive for the 2019 Novel Coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD) becoming the first confirmed case in the Philippines, said Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo.
The number is up by 2 from yesterday, with 2 foreigners being tagged as persons under investigation in the last 24 hours. One of them is in Metro Manila while the other is in another region. Domingo said they are still waiting for more details on the 2.
Of the 31, 25 remain admitted in hospitals around the Philippines. Five were discharged but remain under strict monitoring. One died of pneumonia on Wednesday but the DOH is still waiting for lab results on whether he is positive for the 2019-nCoV ARD or died due to HIV complications.
Domingo emphasized that the 38-year-old woman who tested positive for the new coronavirus remained in isolation, like her partner who traveled with her.
In China, there are at least 9,692 people infected with the new strain of coronavirus and more than 200 people killed as of early Friday, Chinese health authorities said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday declared a global health emergency as the virus spread to at least 18 other countries.
The move will trigger tighter containment and information-sharing guidelines to all countries, but may disappoint Beijing, which had expressed confidence it can beat the "devil" virus.
WHO country representative for the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said that while it is now a global health emergency and that it is clear that there is person-to-person transmission, they do not recommend travel restrictions.
“We in WHO we look very carefully at the evidence and how practically feasible is imposing a travel ban… and how successful it would be,” he said. “And based on some facts we already discussed, WHO does not favor at this point in time for a travel ban.”
However, Abeyasinghe said they would not stop member states from imposing their own travel restrictions. Their only requirement would be for the nations to inform WHO and give justifications on why restrictions are in place.
The Philippines has already banned travelers from the Hubei province, where the new coronavirus was first detected. The DOH said on Friday that it may expand its list of travel restrictions as they receive more information.
The WHO explained that the declaration for a global health emergency is to “help member states to deal with preventing and controlling this outbreak.”
“The (WHO emergency) committee acknowledges the good work done in Wuhan and in other Chinese provinces to arrest the spread of the disease and to contain the disease from spreading outside of China,” said Abeyasinghe. “However, the committee believes there was room for a more coordinated international response to this information."
He said the WHO believes it is “still possible to interrupt the spread of the virus” if countries are able to put in place important measures.
With the declaration of a global health emergency, DOH Epidemiology Bureau Director Chito Avelino said they have changed their method of assessing travelers who are sick.
“We are also discussing who will go on a facility-based quarantine against a home-based quarantine,” he said.
WHO reminded the public not to simply compare numbers of the new coronavirus and other severe coronaviruses like the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) because of the different factors in play. He said the new coronavirus was detected much faster than SARS when it first spread.
The DOH also reiterated the need for the public to practice proper hygiene and other precautions.