Senators question 'slow' DOH tracing of virus patients' contacts

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 04 2020 03:21 PM | Updated as of Feb 04 2020 05:21 PM

Passengers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport arrival area on Tuesday, February 4, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) -- Roughly a fifth of 300 co-passengers of the Philippines' confirmed coronavirus cases have been contacted, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said Tuesday, as he accused airlines of failure to provide contact information. 

Only 17 percent of the passengers on board the Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific flights taken by the coronavirus patients in the country have been contacted, Duque told a Senate inquiry. 

Duque earlier said contact tracing was on "full blast," but during the Senate hearing, he said his subordinates failed to inform him beforehand that only 17 percent of passengers have been contacted. 

"In all our meetings there has been no issue that this is a problem. This is an issue on the lack of transparency on the people on my part," he said. 

"'Yung mga ganung operational details, hindi nalalaman ng Secretary yan," he said, noting that his focus was on the "big picture" of the novel coronavirus outbreak. 

Duque said airlines invoked "confidentiality" when asked for the contact details of some of their passengers.

"Airlines are not sharing contact details of passengers. They are invoking confidentiality."

“Ito ang kailangan nating harapin... Meron [list] pero no contact details, redacted," Duque said. 

In a separate statement to ABS-CBN News, Philippine Airlines spokesperson Cielo Villaluna said the flag carrier shared passengers' contact details. 

"We shared it to enable DOH to carry out the callouts and on top of that, PAL carried out callouts," Viillaluna said in a text message. 

In a statement, Cebu Pacific said it had already provided the DOH and the Bureau of Quarantine with a list of passengers aboard the questioned flights. 

The airline had also reached out to passengers aboard the flight taken by the coronavirus patient, Cebu Pacific director for Corporate Communications Corporate Affairs Charo Logarta Lagamon said. 

“There is no impediment whatsoever for CEB to provide any and all information that the BOQ nd DOH would need from us for their purposes,” she said. 

'SUPER SLOW'

Senator Ronald Dela Rosa described the Health department's contact tracing operations as "super slow."

"Once you have the list already, bigay niyo sa PNP. Tapos na yan in 3 days. Wag ninyo solohin ang problema," Dela Rosa said, referring to the Philippine National Police which he once headed.

Senator Francis Pangilinan said the "dismally and incrediblly" slow performance of the DOH showed a "failure of leadership" on Duque's part. 

"Seventeen percent is completely unacceptable at this day, 15 days after [the flight]," the Pangilinan said.

"How when we stay on top of the situation when the fundamental information is not even in our fingertips?" he said.

The government has been trying to monitor passengers who came in contact with a Chinese couple who tested positive for the novel coronavirus to curb to check if they are also carriers of the communicable virus.

The new coronavirus strain has killed 327 people and infected some 20,000 other globally since it was first reported in Wuhan, China in late December 2019.

Earlier this week, the Philippines banned travel to and from mainland China and its special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau as health experts have yet to find a cure to the deadly virus.