WHO hails addt’l 14-day quarantine for returning Pinoys from cruise ship

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 25 2020 06:58 PM

Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Country Representative speaks to media at The World Health Organization (WHO) office at the Department Of Health (DOH) headquarters in Manila. February 12, 2020 Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — With more than 400 Filipino repatriates flying home on Tuesday from a cruise ship in Japan that now has hundreds of passengers testing positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the World Health Organization (WHO) said another round of quarantine is just what they need.

“The reality is that some of those repatriates may have had exposure before they came,” Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO representative to the Philippines, told ABS-CBN News in an interview, referring to how some passengers of the Diamond Princess might have come into contact with any of the 700 people who were infected with the new strain of coronavirus.

Abeyasinghe said that while the repatriates will be tested before they leave Japan, one testing “will not guarantee” that they are free from the disease.

“The disease may develop (later on). So the decision of the (Philippine) government to put them into quarantine for 14 days is a good decision,” he said. 

The Department of Health (DOH) had repeatedly assured the public that precautions are in place and only those who test negative for COVID-19 will be allowed to fly back to the Philippines.

Most of the Filipinos onboard the ship are crew members with families in the Philippines.

Abeyasinghe said the WHO supports the decision of the Philippine government to repatriate its citizens “as long as the necessary measures are in place.”

He said the Philippine government has already shown that it “has the capacity to implement a good quarantine program” after it repatriated 30 Filipinos from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of COVID-19. All 30 overseas workers and the 19 government personnel who assisted them left the quarantine facility in New Clark City on Saturday after completing the 14-day period. None tested positive for COVID-19.

“We believe they (Philippines) understand what needs to be done,” Abeyasinghe said, adding that precautions are also in place to prevent spillover.

He said WHO has also assigned specialists to assist and advise the DOH when it comes to quarantine procedures. “I believe that the DOH has worked together with the regional centers for health development to put in place reasonably safe organization and mechanism to protect the repatriates and also to prevent spillover and manage.”

The more than 400 Filipino repatriates will be leaving on two chartered planes from Japan late Tuesday. They will be brought to New Clark City in Tarlac province, north of Manila, for the start of their 14-day period.

While the government has already successfully repatriated and quarantined Filipinos from Wuhan, the number of this second batch of repatriates from Japan is much bigger, requiring a larger number of medical teams.

A total of 20 medical teams will be assigned to monitor and assist the repatriates during their stay. Hospitals from the region and in Metro Manila will also be tapped in case any of them will need hospitalization or specialists.