Philippines' new coronavirus cases now at 5, including potential local transmission

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 06 2020 12:09 PM | Updated as of Mar 07 2020 08:22 AM

A hospital sets up a coronavirus disease holding area on February 05, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (5th UPDATE) — The Philippines confirmed Friday 2 more cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the total to 5, including one that could be a potential case of local transmission.
 
The country's fourth coronavirus case is a 48-year-old Filipino man who traveled to Japan. He returned to the Philippines last Feb. 25 ; experienced fever and chills starting March 3; and tested positive for the pathogen 2 days after, said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III. 

Japan has reported 360 confirmed cases and 6 deaths from the illness, as of Friday.

The patient is "stable" and admitted at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, added Duque. 

The fifth confirmed case is a 62-year-old Filipino man who had coughs last Feb. 25, was admitted at a Manila hospital on March 1 with severe pneumonia, and tested positive for COVID-19 on March 5, said Duque. 

This patient "has no known history of travel outside the country," said the Secretary. 

"It can be considered as a local case," said Duque when asked if the 5th patient could have caught the disease through local transmission.

"There is no transmission to speak of, as of yet, because we only have one. That's why we're doing contact tracing, to establish whether or not there are other cases or clustering of cases. But now, it is premature to say that there is a local transmission," he said. 

VIRUS IN PLACE OF WORSHIP? 

The 5th patient regularly visited a Muslim prayer hall in San Juan. Worshipers who are experiencing symptoms are encouraged to call the DOH hotline (02) 8651 7800 local 1149 to 1150 for referral to a health facility, said Duque. 

A lone COVID-19 case "does not mean that we have to close down the prayer hall," said Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, World Health Organization's representative to the Philippines. 

"We need to understand whether this was an isolated infection that happened in the community from somebody who was mildly symptomatic or whether there is clustering of cases with his contacts," he said. 

A relative of the 5th patient "has already experienced symptoms," was confined at the RITM with him, and waiting for test results on possible infection, said Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire. 

Authorities are tracing and collecting samples from those who had close contact with the 2 patients, said Duque. 

"These recent developments are significant, but we are prepared to respond to its potential consequences... We can still contain the spread of the virus in the country," he said. 

The health department earlier confirmed 3 other cases of the novel coronavirus, including 1 death, which were all from Wuhan City in central China where the pathogen first emerged late last year.

The 4th and 5th coronavirus cases are the first Filipinos who tested positive for the pathogen locally. At least 88 other Filipinos were infected with COVID-19 abroad, said the health department. 

San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora said he instructed health workers to disinfect the prayer hall in Barangay Greenhills frequented by the 5th patient. 

 

PINOYS ON VIRUS SHIP

Airmen from the Moffett Federal Airfield based, 129th Rescue Wing deliver coronavirus test-kits to the Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast of California, US in this still image from a handout video obtained by Reuters on March 5, 2020. California National Guard/Reuters

The health department has no information yet if any of the 500 Filipino crew members of a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship stranded off the coast of San Francisco, California had caught the disease, said Duque. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs, which is coordinating with the operator of the Grand Princess ship, has yet to receive any request to repatriate the Filipinos there, added Health Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo. 

The ship would remain at sea pending test results on its nearly 3,500 guests and crew. Health officials sounded the alarm on the ship after 2 passengers who had been on board during a previous voyage between San Francisco and Mexico later fell ill and one of them died. 

Several other passengers who had remained on the vessel for its next voyage to Hawaii also developed flu-like symptoms during that trip.

The Grand Princess belongs to Princess Cruises, the same company which operated the Diamond Princess -- the coronavirus-stricken ship held off Japan last month from which more than 700 people tested positive and 6 died.

Eighty Filipino crew members of Diamond Princess caught the disease. Many of them have recovered and some have been allowed to return to the Philippines, the health department earlier said. -- With a report from Agence France-Presse