PH buys 19,000 test kits ahead of repatriation of Pinoys from virus-hit ship

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 24 2020 04:06 PM

A bus arrives near the cruise ship Diamond Princess, where dozens of passengers were tested positive for coronavirus, at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, Feb. 16, 2020. Athit Perawongmetha, Reuters/File

MANILA — The Philippines is purchasing 19,000 test kits for COVID-19 as it prepares for the arrival of hundreds of Filipinos from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

The cruise ship, which is currently docked in Japan, has the second highest number of people who tested positive for COVID-19, a new strain of coronavirus that has killed more than 2,000 people.

“We have enough PCR kits with RITM (Research Institute for Tropical Medicine). And there was this most recent procurement and they’re just waiting for delivery of about 19,000 kits,” Maria Rosario Vergeire, Health Assistant Secretary for Public Health Services, told reporters. 

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) kits allow laboratories to detect the novel coronavirus from samples sent by patients suspected of having the COVID-19 disease. The Philippine government has tested hundreds of people already with the PCR kits with only three testing positive.

Vergeire said the incoming batch of 19,000 kits were purchased from another country. They will most likely be used for the 460 to 480 Filipinos who will be repatriated on Tuesday from the cruise ship docked in Japan.

Of the 3,200 passengers of the cruise ship, more than 500 are Filipinos. Fifty-nine of them have tested positive for the COVID-19 and will stay behind until they recover.

"More than 400 negative, asymptomatic patients will be repatriated," Vergeire said. "The [Department of Health] will screen and only allow the repatriation of overseas Filipinos who are negative for COVID-19."

The repatriates will be tested for COVID-19 in Japan before they are repatriated and they will again be tested once they arrive in the Philippines.

"Those who will manifest signs of respiratory illness during the flight will immediately be brought to an identified hospital for isolation and management while those who were asymptomatic throughout the flight will be directly transferred to the quarantine facility at New Clark City, Capas, Tarlac," she added.

The PCR kits will also be used on repatriates who show signs and symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, sore throat, cough and colds, during the 14-day quarantine at the New Clark City.

Despite concerns of the local government, the DOH said it will keep the repatriates in one group to reduce the exposure of other people.

"We will ensure that Infection Control and Quarantine Protocols will be strictly followed by our kababayans and the health workers that will man the quarantine facility. DOH and its partners will be working double hard to ensure the safety and welfare of the quarantined patients, as well as civilians in the vicinity," Vergeire quotes the Health Secretary saying.

A total of 20 medical teams from DOH hospitals will be managing the quarantine facility. They will check on the repatriates twice a day. 

Just this Saturday, 30 overseas Filipinos from Wuhan left the New Clark City after completing their 14-day quarantine upon returning to the country. None of them tested positive for COVID-19.

As for the 59 Filipinos from the cruise ship who tested positive, Vergeire said they will remain in Japan until they recover and test negative for COVID-19 twice. It is only then that they will be cleared to leave.

"The government of Japan has assured the government of the Philippines that they will take care of our citizens while they are being treated in their facilities," the health official said. 

The DOH has refused to divulge the details of the repatriation on Tuesday, including the time. Vergeire only said that it will involve 2 chartered flights that will arrive 3 hours apart in Clark.