MANILA (4th UPDATE) - A third Chinese patient tested positive for the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the Philippines but has been discharged and returned to China, the country's health ministry said Wednesday.
The announcement came three days after the Philippine government said Manila's second confirmed case led to the patient's death, marking the first novel coronavirus-related fatality outside China amid the outbreak that has spread to more than 20 countries across continents.
Philippine Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said the patient is a 60-year old woman from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the virus. She arrived in Cebu City in the central region, via Hong Kong, on Jan. 20, and then traveled to the neighboring resort island province of Bohol.
"She is the third confirmed 2019-nCoV Acute Respiratory Disease case in the country," the health department said in a statement.
Domingo said the woman, who was traveling with other people, fell ill on her first day in Bohol on Jan. 22. She first stayed in her hotel, but was immediately admitted to a hospital the same day.
Two sets of samples were taken from the patient - one on Jan. 23 and another on Jan. 24. Since the Philippines at the time relied only on Australia's Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory for nCoV infection confirmatory tests, and it can only send limited samples, only the Jan. 24 sample was submitted there.
Results of the tests on the Jan. 24 sample, both by RITM and the VIDRL, "came back (as) negative," Domingo said. They were received on Jan. 29 and 30.
"Upon recovery of the patient, she was discharged and was allowed to return to China via Cebu last Jan. 31," the health department said.
Meanwhile, when the RITM acquired the capability to test for 2019-nCoV infection beginning last week, it included the woman's Jan. 23 sample in its examination. This one tested positive for the new virus strain, and the RITM notified the health department on Feb. 3 about the finding.
Domingo said the Department of Health's Epidemiology Bureau has started tracking people who may have interacted or were in close proximity to the patient, especially those in her hotel. The woman’s companions did not exhibit symptoms, he said.
The health department does not consider the woman infectious by Jan. 31 when she was discharged and traveled back to China. But since the positive result came out, efforts to reach her have been made so she can be informed about it.
The passenger traveled to Shenzhen from Cebu on Jan. 31 via flight number Z2 7800, AirAsia said in a statement.
AirAsia is willing to provide relevant documents to the DOH such as flight manifest and contact details of guests on board the affected flight “given the urgency of the situation,” it said.
The operating flight crew have been quarantined, while the aircraft will undergo disinfection procedures based on prescribed protocol, the airline said.
“We advise passengers on-board this flight to seek medical help if they have been feeling unwell,” AirAsia said.
Earlier, two Chinese travelers, who also came from Wuhan, tested positive as well for the 2019-nCoV while in the Philippines, although both are classified as "imported cases." They arrived, also in Cebu via Hong Kong, last Jan. 21.
The first confirmed case involved a 38-year-old woman, while the second was her companion, a 44-year-old man. The latter, who was also found positive for pneumonia-causing bacteria, died last Saturday, Feb. 1, the first recorded nCoV-related death outside China.
The spread of the outbreak in the Philippines prompted government to ban foreign travelers from all of mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau. Domestically, the public has been scrambling for limited stocks of masks for their protection.
On Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte called for calm, saying the public should not be scared as the disease would "die a natural death."
As of Wednesday, nearly 500 deaths have been recorded in China, while infections have reached over 24,000 in Chinese cities and other Asia-Pacific countries, North America, and Europe. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a global health emergency.
The Philippines has so far reported 133 "patients under investigation" (PUIs) for the new coronavirus, including the three confirmed cases and another fatality who was later found negative. Thirty-two of them have reportedly traveled to Wuhan, where the virus was known to have spread from a market that sold wild animals as delicacies.
The PUIs include 63 Filipinos, 54 Chinese, and 16 of other different nationalities.
Of the 133, there are 115 who are currently admitted and isolated.