MANILA - Asymptomatic Filipino workers who are expected to return from China starting this weekend amid the novel coronavirus outbreak there will be temporarily housed in a drug rehabilitation facility in the northern Philippine province of Nueva Ecija, a health official said Wednesday.
"It's a very, very big facility. It's for 10,000 people. They found one (building) that is separated from the big compound," Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said of the Mega Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Center located inside the Philippine Army-administered Fort Ramon Magsaysay camp in Nueva Ecija.
The separate building, he said, can accommodate 1,000 people.
"They can have separate rooms, I'm pretty sure," Domingo said, referring to the initial batch of at least 42 Filipino migrant workers from China's Hubei province who have opted to come home.
Salvador Panelo, spokesman of President Rodrigo Duterte, said they are expected to arrive on Saturday at Clark Airport, located southwest of Fort Magsaysay and north of Manila.
At the time of the outbreak, the foreign affairs office said there were an estimated 150 Filipinos in Wuhan City, the capital of Hubei, from which the novel coronavirus originated. For the whole of China, the Filipino population is almost 300,000.
According to Domingo, the initial group of Filipino repatriates are currently not showing any signs of illness, and only need to be quarantined. While at Fort Magsaysay, they will be closely monitored by personnel of the Department of Health.
But if anyone of them gets sick, they will be brought to the hospital, and not to Fort Magsaysay, he said.
While there are other options for government, such as an island facility, for the country's quarantining requirements, Fort Magsaysay is part of "working plan right now," said Domingo.
“Hindi naman ganun kadami yung ire-repatriate. So, it would be easier if you keep them in one quarantine facility,” he said.
(There are not a lot of people who will be repatriated. So, it would be easier if you keep them in one quarantine facility.)
Domingo said there will be special arrangements for the group so they do not have to pass through the same Bureau of Quarantine area in the airport once they arrive.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III visited Fort Magsaysay on Wednesday to see the facilities and discuss how its operations will go, Domingo said.
The drug rehabilitation facility was inaugurated in November 2016 to address the surge of illegal drug users surrendering to authorities amid the deadly war on drugs waged by the Duterte government starting that year.
The novel coronavirus, which was first detected in December last year, has so far killed nearly 500 people and infected more than 24,000 people, mostly in China.
Three Chinese nationals who traveled to the country from Wuhan tested positive for the new virus strain, of whom, one died, marking the first novel coronavirus-related fatality outside of China.
As precautionary measure, the Philippines declared a temporary ban on travelers from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau. Filipinos are also temporarily prohibited to go there.