PH mulls additional quarantine for returning Filipinos onboard Japan ship

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 17 2020 03:16 PM | Updated as of Feb 17 2020 04:29 PM

The cruise ship Diamond Princess, where dozens of passengers were tested positive for coronavirus, is seen at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan February 10, 2020. Kim Kyung-Hoon, Reuters/file

MANILA — There are still no final plans for the possible repatriation of Filipinos onboard a cruise ship with hundreds of COVID-19 cases but the Department of Health said it might require another round of quarantine for the passengers.

"Yes. We are considering that all of these people will be considered for quarantine once they come back," Health Assistant Secretary for Public Health Services Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a press conference on Monday.

“They are requesting if we can already do the repatriation once the quarantine period is over,” Vergeire said, referring to the Japan Embassy and the cruise ship company.

The 14-day quarantine period of the Diamond Princess cruise ship is set to end on Wednesday.

She said it is among the things that will be discussed during the technical working group meeting of the Interagency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases on Monday afternoon and another high-level meeting on Tuesday.

Vergeire said they are hoping that details will be finalized by tomorrow or within the week as everything is still on the discussion and planning stage.

There are over 500 Filipinos onboard the MV Diamond Princess, which is now docked in Japan. While all of its 3,700 passengers are (AND) crew members are now quarantined onboard the ship, the number of people who tested positive for the dreaded COVID-19 has risen to more than 300. This includes 27 Filipinos as of Monday.

The United States government already evacuated its citizens from the cruise ship after 40 of them tested positive for the new strain of coronavirus, which has so far mostly affected China.

Asked how the Department of Health will ensure that COVID-19, which has spread to other countries like the Philippines, will be contained once the cruise ship passengers arrive in the Philippines, Vergeire said the agency will have to closely study the “mode of how they got infected on the ship.”

She pointed out that not all of them were infected on the first day. “We are considering everything so we can properly manage when they arrive here. And so we can minimize the risk of them transmitting the disease to others.”

There are currently more than 70,000 people infected with COVID-19, most of them from China. The death toll has reached 1,700 as of Monday.

Vergeire assured the public that the Filipinos on the ship are being regularly tested. She said there will be additional protocols on how they will be tested before they are repatriated back to the Philippines.

The health official dismissed concerns that COVID-19 might be airborne as the number of infected patients inside the ship are much higher than usual.

“What (experts are saying) is that it’s spread through direct contact and droplet infection. Now when it comes to the ship, why it is spreading there, we still don’t know the exact circumstance. What we do know is that it’s a confined space and there’s direct contact,” she said.

Vergeire said there will likely be additional protocols or guidelines for the Filipinos on the cruise ship.

The Philippine government repatriated 30 overseas Filipino workers and their families from Hubei, the epicenter of the disease, last week. A total of 49 people, including government personnel who assisted in the repatriation, are now quarantined at the New Clark City in Tarlac.

While some have been brought to hospitals due to various health issues, none of them have shown signs or symptoms of respiratory illness, Vergeire said.

“The health and well-being of our repatriates is of utmost importance to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and our Department. We are providing our kababayans with appropriate health services and daily physical and psychosocial activities to keep them comfortable during the 14-day quarantine process,” she said, quoting Duque.

The housing of the repatriates at the New Clark City was opposed by the local government amid fears of the spread of COVID-19 in the nearby communities. But the Department of Health has continuously assured the public that precautions are being taken to avoid local transmission.