PH tracks down, now monitoring family of HK's suspected coronavirus patient

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine immigration agents have tracked down the family of a 39-year-old man who tested "preliminarily positive" for the Wuhan coronavirus disease in Hong Kong, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Thursday, January 23.

"Na-track down na ng Bureau of Immigration (BI has tracked them down). Monitoring their movements and may refer them to Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ)," Guevarra told reporters in a message on Thursday.

Hong Kong authorities confirmed on Wednesday, January 22, its first suspected case of the new SARS-like virus, saying the 39-year-old patient arrived in the city from Wuhan, China via train.

The man's 4 family members later flew to Manila and arrived on the same day, Wednesday. Cebu Pacific, the reported carrier of the family, has already released a statement urging its recent passengers to seek medical attention if they experience flu-like symptoms.

BI Spokesperson Dana Sandoval and Justice Undersecretary for Immigration Markk Perete confirmed that the family are Chinese nationals.

The family was tracked down only on Thursday, the day after. Guevarra did not say where they were.

Airport protocols 

This means the family was able to get out of the airport on Wednesday.

Sandoval said it was not within BI's jurisdiction to "look out for suspected cases," deferring to the BOQ which is under the Department of Health (DOH).

"It's BOQ who is on the lookout for suspected cases. But the Commissioner has already ordered a checking of our records to assist the DOH in locating said Chinese nationals," said Sandoval.

Guevarra also said the BI will also track down the people whom the family has interacted with so far.

Perete said that an Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) has already been procured for purposes of alerting authorities in situations like this. But the system is not operational yet.

"BI is now concluding discussions with the different airlines for the protocols and logistical arrangements for the Advanced Passenger Information System to be fully operational. Target date for its full operationalization is by next week (before the end of the month)," Perete said.

Allaying fears 

Health Secretary Francisco Duque Duque said being infected with a coronavirus is not “an automatic death sentence” as there are coronaviruses that cause the common cold. (READ: ‘Novel coronavirus’ or 2019 nCoV: What we know so far)

Duque also reminded the public that the 5-year-old child in Cebu City is recovering, still with coughs but no longer feverish.

He added that the DOH is waiting for test results from the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in Australia before it can rule out that the coronavirus found in the child in Cebu is the Wuhan coronavirus. 

Duque said there are still "many blindspots" in the novel coronavirus.  

In Wuhan, 17 deaths due to the novel coronavirus have been confirmed as of Wednesday, January 22. Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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