'Heads will roll' due to ‘slow’ tracing of virus patients' contacts, says Duque

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 04 2020 05:19 PM | Updated as of Feb 04 2020 07:37 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - Several officials from the Department of Health will be fired over the “slow” tracing of individuals who were exposed to 2 Chinese tourists who tested positive for the 2019 novel coronavirus.

Only 17 percent of 300 passengers who traveled with the Chinese patients have been contacted, Duque said in a Senate inquiry, prompting lawmakers to reprimand the health chief.

“Heads will roll... Somebody’s head is really going to roll,” Duque told reporters when asked about sanctions to be imposed on negligent health officials. 

He did not name any DOH executive, but said that the Epidemiology Bureau was in charge of the contact tracing process.


Health officials who were involved in the contract tracing will be "assessed for their competencies," Duque said.

"I always assume that they already have the competence, they already know what they are doing, they already know the protocols," he said.

"It is not a failure of leadership, but a question of incompetence on the part of some who form part of the orchestra," he added.

The competency assessment and probe on the slow contact tracing will be done immediately, the Health secretary said.

Officials from the Bureau earlier told Duque that the contact tracing was delayed after airlines allegedly refused to give the contact details of the passengers.

But Cebu Pacific, which ferried the passengers from Hong Kong to Cebu, and Cebu to Dumaguete on January 21, said in a related statement that it "has been working with the government from the beginning."

"There is no impediment whatsoever for CEB to provide any and all information that the BOH and DOQ would need from us for their purposes," Cebu Pacific said, adding that they had set up a hotline for passengers to call. 

The Chinese couple rode 5J 241 (Hong Kong-Cebu, January 21), DG 6519 (Cebu-Dumaguete, January 21), and Philippine Airlines' PR 2542 (Dumaguete to Manila -Jan 25). 

Cebu Pacific claimed it "contacted the passengers aboard the flights taken by NCOV-positive patients and updated them on those we have been able to speak with."

Philippine Airlines, in a separate statement, said it had provided the contact details of its passengers to Health officials.

The government is racing to contain the novel coronavirus that has killed a Chinese tourist in the country over the weekend. Nearly 500 others, mostly in China, also died of the virus while some 20,000 others have been infected worldwide.