MANILA — The Philippines is preparing measures to prevent the community spread of the coronavirus, health officials said Monday, after the number of confirmed cases swelled to 10 over the weekend.
An inter-agency task force will meet later Monday to discuss the measures, including suspension of classes an banning public gatherings, said Assistant Health Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.
President Rodrigo Duterte is also due to formally issue a state of public health emergency later in the day, according to Malacanang.
"The hope is for us not to reach that point where community transmission or sustained community transmission will be happening in the Philippines," Vergeire told ANC.
"As we see our cases right now, we already have localized transmission it means it's confined to one community or one sector of our society and still not widespread," she said.
"It's part of the recommendations that will be tackled later with the inter-agency task force, this suspension of classes by the different local government units, also the suspension of different mass gatherings. All of this will be discussed during the inter-agency task force meeting this afternoon," she said.
The DOH so far confirmed 10 cases of the respiratory disease. Out of 4 cases announced Sunday, 2 could have caught the virus through localized transmission and are "subject to validation," said Health Secretary Francisco Duque.
The 4 newest cases include a 38-year-old Taiwanese male and a 57-year-old Filipino male, both with no history of travel abroad, the DOH said. The agency last week confirmed the Philippines' first COVID-19 localized transmission: a 62-year-old Filipino man with no travel abroad, who later infected his wife.
If localized transmissions spread and "overwhelm" hospitals, this will be deemed as "community transmission," which will prompt the health department to raise its alert to Code Red Level 2 from the current Level 1, said Duque.
Under Code Red Level 2, areas with community transmission will be quarantined with the help of policemen and soldiers, while classes and work will be suspended. Unaffected regions will also be required to send assistance, he said.
"Hindi po natin matatanggal ang posibilidad na iyan," Duque told DZMM.
(We are not setting aside that possibility.)
The public should "help the government so we can adequately address the situation so it will not progress to community-wide transmission," Vergeire said.
The 4 latest COVID-19 cases are in "stable" condition and are being treated in hospitals, she said.
The country's first local transmission case -- the 62-year-old man who had frequented a prayer hall in San Juan -- was in "stable" condition but "guarded" due to his co-morbidities or existing health conditions. The man's wife is also stable, she said.
ADDITIONAL TESTING CENTERS
The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa City is currently the Philippines' lone facility that tests oral and nasal samples from potential coronavirus patients nationwide.
Authorities eye using the University of the Philippines-National Institute of Health in Manila as the second COVID-19 testing center this week, said Duque.
Other potential testing hubs include the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City, Baguio General Hospital and the Lung Center of the Philippines, he said.
Qatar on Monday announced a ban on travelers from the Philippines and 13 other countries as a precaution against COVID-19.
There are around 220,000 Filipino workers in the kingdom, Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimated in 2017.
Some Filipino workers received a notice on the travel ban from the Philippine Embassy on Monday.
FILIPINOS ON VIRUS SHIP
The DOH later Monday will seek updates from the Department of Foreign Affairs on some 500 Filipinos on board a coronavirus-stricken ship quarantined off San Francisco, California, said Duque.
The Grand Princess cruise ship has 21 confirmed COVID-19 infections among 3,500 people on board. Some Filipino crew members were among those who tested positive for the virus, the cruise line said Sunday, without giving an exact figure.
The Grand Princess belongs to Princess Cruises. It is the same company that operated the Diamond Princess -- the coronavirus-stricken ship held off Japan last month from which more than 700 people tested positive and 6 died.
None of the 458 Filipinos repatriated from Diamond Princess had tested positive for the virus. Their 2-week quarantine in a government facility north of the capital will end in 2 days, said Duque.
NO DISEASE, NO MASK
Duque advised the public to refrain from wearing protective masks if they are not sick.
"Ibigay po natin ang mga face masks sa ating health workers dahil sila po talaga ang unang mangangailangan nito dahil sila ang frontliners sa pangangalaga ng mga may sakit," he said.
(Let's give the face masks to our health workers because they need it the most and serve as frontliners in taking care of the sick.)
"Minsan nga ang mga tao nagfi-face mask pero kakaayos, kakaayos ng face mask kung ano-anong dumi ang naipapasok sa mga butas sa mukha," he added.
(Sometimes people wear face masks, but because they keep adjusting it, microbes enter the openings in their faces.)
The public should wash their hands frequently and refrain from touching "MEN" or their mouth, eyes and nose, said Duque.
COVID-19 has killed 3,792 people while infecting more than 109,000 worldwide.