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Health Secretary Francisco Duque III

UP-NIH just saved the day for Filipinos

in Editorial/News/Tabloid PH News

Filipinos should be thanking the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of  Health (UP-NIH) for successfully developing the test kits for the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) just as the world is starting to see a supply shortage amid the spread of the disease to over 100 countries.

The announcement made by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that it has approved the UP-NIH-developed test kits, which were also pre-approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), was indeed a very welcome development, especially with local transmission of COVID-19 already happening in the country.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said it: we have the money to buy test kits, but there is no supply. Currently, our COVID-19 test kits came from Japan, and there were only 2,000 units available.

Now, the UP-NIH has committed to produce 1,000 units of these test kits every week. Not only that, the locally developed kits were reported to be superior than their Japanese counterparts. According to the FDA, UP-NIH test kits can yield results in just 2 hours, as compared to the 24-hour wait for the Japan-made kits.

Raul Destura, who led the UP scientists in developing the test kits, said these were developed just two weeks after the WHO released the whole genome sequence of the virus.

For those who do not know, UP-NIH was established in 1996 by the UP Board of Regents. It was then declared as a national health research center by the government in 1998. According to its website, the NIH, while considered a unit of the University of the Philippines Manila, has its own Board of Advisers that recommends the general direction, determines priorities and thrusts of the organization, and generates resources in support of the programs and component units. The Board of Advisers is composed of the Department of Health Secretary, Chancellor of UP Manila, Executive Director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD), the Executive Director of NIH, and 2 other recognized scholars appointed by the UP Board of Regents.

This makes facilities like the UP-NIH very crucial for the country. This should also make the policymakers realize the importance of providing adequate funding for them. This should also make the private sector more generous in their donations to these research institutes.

Just imagine the situation the country would be in if we could not develop our own COVID-19 test kits; underreporting of cases would surely persist. Not only that, the country would be ill-equipped in the fight against the disease. How would you know who to quarantine and cure if you do not have the test kits to determine who was infected?

Indeed, UP-NIH has saved the day for Filipinos. They should be thanked, congratulated and recognized properly for this.

Govt task force sets criteria in determining countries to be included in travel ban

in News/Tabloid PH News

More countries, including Japan, could be included in the country’s travel ban depending on the criteria that will be set by the government in determining future travel restrictions to contain the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the new criteria is set for release on February 28 once finalized by the Inter-agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Duque, in an interview with radio stations DZMM on Thursday (February 27), said among the considerations being looked at in including a country in the travel restrictions are the number of local transmission of COVID-19 and the volume of travelers that go in and out of that country.

Latest reports said there were already 186 cases of COVID-19 in Japan, with 8 fatalities.

The government has already banned travels to and from China and the South Korean province of North Gyeongsang.

If Japan is included in the ban, the Philippines’s tourism sector will surely suffer a big blow, as South Korea, China and Japan are three of the top 4 tourism markets of the country.

In 2019, there were 1.98 millions arrivals from South Korea, followed by China with 1.74 million, the US, 1.06 million, and Japan, 682,788.

These markets recorded hikes in tourist arrivals in 2019.  Korean arrivals went up by 22.48 percent, China by 38.58 percent, US by 2.90 percent, and Japan by 8.07 percent.

Overall, the Philippines received 8.26 million international visitors in 2019, up 15.24 percent from 2018.

“Depende, kung ito (Japan) ay pumasok (sa criteria)…Magde-decision ang task force,” Duque said.

Duterte proves he is not afraid of nCoV, plans to personally welcome Filipino repatriates from Wuhan on Saturday

in News/Tabloid PH News

President Duterte will continue to lead by example and show that his governance will not be hindered by the health risks posed by the 2019 novel coronavirus acute respiratory syndrome (2019-nCoV ARD), even expressing his desire to personally receive the initial batch of Filipino repatriates from Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the new coronavirus strain— on Saturday.

According to Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, the Chief Executive wants to join Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in welcoming at least 42 repatriates when they arrive at the Clark International Airport and head straight to the designated quarantine area in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija.

This is now being discussed by Duterte with the Presidential Security Group (PSG) and Presidential Management Staff (PMS), Nograles said. “The President wants to be there. He’d like to be there on Saturday pero tingnan na muna natin sa PMS and PSG…That’s going to be a debate between the President and the PSG and the PMS.”

The President, Nograles added, is also not heeding the advice to limit his public engagements and even shake hands.

“He (Duterte) just wants to keep on doing the things he’s doing without imposing limitations sa kaniyang movement. He doesn’t want to change the way he conducts his business,” Nograles said.

Duterte earlier said that “there’s nothing really to be extra-scared of that coronavirus thing.”

The Philippines recorded the first 2019-nCoV ARD death outside of China, a 44-year-old Chinese whose 38-year-old companion is now being treated for the disease. A third confirmed case in the country is a 60-year-old woman.

Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said that as of the afternoon of February 5, there were already 133 PUIs [patients under investigation] for nCoV, 63 of them Filipinos, 54 Chinese and the 16 others of different nationalities. “Of the 133 PUIs, 115 are admitted and isolated while 16 have been discharged under strict monitoring.” 

The DOH, with the help of the police, is now also locating over 300 individuals who had contact with the Chinese fatality and his companion. The two traveled to Dumaguete and Cebu via Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific flights.

PH may ban travelers from all countries with 2019-nCoV cases depending on WHO report

in News/Tabloid PH News

The Philippines could impose travel restrictions, not just for people coming from China, but also for all the other countries that reported confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said they are now waiting for the risk assessment reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) to determine what actions to take regarding the travel ban.

The initial subject of the restriction, he said, is only Hubei Province in China, the place where the new coronavirus strain originated. But this could extend to the whole of China and other countries.

“We have to look at the numbers also. We have to be careful because some of the numbers might be very few in some cases and there are some countries reporting also, and we might also extend that ban to al the other 14 to 17 countries, so kailangang pag-isipan maigi,” Duque said in an interview with ANC on Friday (January 31).

He said he will convene a meeting among the members of the inter-agency task force that includes the DOH, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Tourism and Department of Transportation, among others.

Duque said extending the coverage of the ban is the direction they are taking, pending the risk assessment report from the WHO. The recommendation approved by President Duterte, he added, already included this possibility of extending the ban to other places.

“That is the direction we are taking. I recommended a temporary restriction of travelers to Manila from Hubei, with the possibility that as soon as we get the risk assessment by the WHO, that many other provinces are in fact reporting increasing numbers of nCoV infection, we will include them in the travel restriction. The President already approved this recommendation,” he said.

This ban, he clarified, is not just for Chinese tourists, but all travelers.

Right now, Duque said the government already put in place a 14-day quarantine procedures for people coming from areas with nCoV cases, and this will include Filipinos that will be repatriated from Hubei.

The WHO has already declared the 2019-nCoV as a global heath emergency, which means all governments are advised to take measures that will prevent the cross-border spread of the novel coronavirus.

In the Philippines, one confirmed case has been reported, with 31 other individuals identified as persons under investigation. 

Filipinos rush to buy face masks while calls for ban on Chinese entry to PH mount after first nCoV case

in News/Tabloid PH News

Filipinos panicked after hearing the official news from the Department of Health (DOH) of the first confirmed novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) case in the country, with videos proliferating on social media showing long queues of people buying face masks in drugstores.

Also, calls to temporarily ban people traveling from China reverberated, with some again using this development to criticize the Duterte administration for not immediately imposing the travel ban after news of the spread of 2019-nCoV broke out.

In a statement, Senator Ralph Recto said: “I think it is time to put a temporary ‘do not enter’ sign on our doorstep for visitors from China.” The Senate President Pro Tempore added: “Let us explain to them that we are not permanently closing our doors. This is not a permanent Great Wall. This is only during the duration of the coronavirus crisis.”

Senator Risa Hontiveros said the travel ban must firmly include both air and sea travel to prevent a local outbreak. “This includes a temporary ban on all cruise ships from docking at any of our ports.”

Senator Bong Go, President Duterte’s former special assistant, supported the call.

Before this, the DOH said there is still no need to prevent the entry of Chinese to the country, as this may strain the Manila-Beijing diplomatic relations. Now, this pronouncement is being used by Duterte bashers to criticize the government.

On Thursday afternoon (January 30), Health Secretary Francisco Duque III announced that a 38-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan, China has been confirmed to be positive for 2019-nCoV. She arrived in the Philippines via Hongkong on January 21 and admitted in public on January 25 after experiencing a mild cough. The woman did not show other signs of illnesses.

Duque’s announcement read: ”I assure the public that the DOH is on top of this evolving situation. We were able to detect the first confirmed case because of our strong surveillance system, close coordination with the World Health Organization and other national agencies.”

“We are working closely with the hospital where the patient is admitted and have activated the incident command system of the said hospital for appropriate management specifically on infection control, case management and containment. We are also implementing measures to protect the health staff providing care to these patients.”

The DOH is now in the midst of contact tracing to know where the Chinese woman went in the country and who she can in contact with. It has been reported that she went to Cebu and Dumaguete.

Undersecretary Eric Domingo, the DOH spokesman, said she was brought to a hospital in Manila.

Just an hour after the DOH confirmation of the first 2019-nCoV case here, Filipinos started lining up in drugstores to buy face masks. This was shown in videos posted on Twitter by Raffy Tima and Miranda de Quiros taken in Manila and Quezon City, respectively.

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