MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Department of Health (DOH) confirmed that two Filipinos tested positive for the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) for the first time in the Philippines, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 5.
In a press conference on Friday, March 6, DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III said the 4th positive case in the Philippines is a 48-year-old male Filipino who visited Japan and returned to Manila on February 25.
He started experiencing symptoms such as chills and fever on March 3, but is currently in a "stable" condition.
The second new confirmed case is a 62-year-old Filipino male with known pre-existing conditions of hypertension and diabetes mellitus who started experiencing cough with phlegm on February 25.
He sought medical consultation at a hospital in Metro Manila on March 1 and was admitted with severe pneumonia. The man frequented a Muslim prayer hall in San Juan City.
Both cases are admitted at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).
This 5th case has no known travel history, but Duque said it cannot be treated as a confirmed local transmission of COVID-19 – the disease caused by 2019-nCoV – for now.
“There is no transmission to speak of as of [now]. There’s only one. That’s why we’re doing contact tracing…But now it’s premature to say that there’s local transmission,” Duque said.
The DOH and concerned local government units are now tracing all the individuals the two additional confirmed cases came in contact with.
“These recent developments are significant, but we are prepared to respond to its potential consequences. Our priority is to protect our health workers and the most vulnerable populations,” Duque said.
“We can still contain the spread of the virus in the country, which is why we are encouraging the public to practice proper handwashing, social distancing, and cough etiquette. We call on the public to be vigilant and continue doing their part in containing the disease,” he added.
Prior to the two Filipino cases, the Philippines previously reported that 3 Chinese nationals tested positive for COVID-19. One died, while the other two already recovered.
The Philippine government has long been criticized for not testing a larger part of the population for possible infection.
The RITM is the country’s sole laboratory accredited by the World Health Organization (WHO) to test 2019-nCoV samples. It uses a testing method that yields results within 24 to 48 hours, much slower compared to the speed of the rapid diagnostic testing (RDT) kits that countries like South Korea is using.
The DOH is now eyeing 4 more hospitals across the country to be accredited by the WHO as official testing centers for 2019-nCoV.
Duque, however, still does not want to use the RDTs to expand the Philippines' testing samples, arguing these have not been accredited by the WHO yet.
‘Wake up call’
Senator Risa Hontiveros said the latest COVID-19 cases in the country, as well as confirmed cases abroad involving people who traveled to the Philippines, should be a “wake up call” to Philippine health officials.
“This is a cause for concern and a wake-up call for our health officials. We should not give the public a false sense of security because the danger of local transmission is real,” Hontiveros said in a statement on Friday.
She urged the Doh to review its screening and testing protocols, following the latest cases.
“Parang hindi sapat (It seems that it is inadequate). DOH should intensify its monitoring and surveillance to include all travelers, not just those who come from countries with high prevalence of COVID-19,” the senator said.
“A weak health system poses a risk to public health. We need the DOH to be hawk-eyed and transparent with the public every step of the way,” she added.
Worldwide, a total of 90 Filipinos caught the novel coronavirus in the past weeks, including the two new cases recorded in the Philippines on Friday.
Of this number, 80 were infected with 2019-nCoV while aboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess that was docked for days at the port of Yokohama in Japan. Another two Filipinos tested positive in the United Arab Emirates, while Singapore reported 3 cases. Another 3 Filipinos got 2019-nCoV in Hong Kong.
Still, 40 of the Filipinos from Diamond Princess and one case from Singapore already recovered from the coronavirus.– Rappler.com