Philippines confirms first case of new coronavirus

MANILA (3rd UPDATE) – The Philippines on Thursday confirmed its first case of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). 

In a press conference, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said a 38-year-old Chinese patient from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, was confirmed to be infected with the virus following a laboratory test in Australia. 

The woman arrived in Manila via Hong Kong on Jan. 21. She is now in an undisclosed government hospital.

The patient came in for a checkup on Jan. 25 after experiencing mild cough, Duque said. 

“The patient sought consult and was admitted in one of the country’s government hospitals last Jan. 25 after experiencing mild cough. She is currently asymptomatic… which means she has no fever, and no other signs and symptoms suggesting illness at this point,” he said. 

He said health authorities were working closely with the hospital where the patient is confined. The hospital’s “incident command system” has been activated for “infection control, case management and containment,” he added.

“We are also implementing measures to protect the health staff providing care to this patient,” Duque said. 

The health chief said the DOH “continues to guarantee the public that all necessary precautionary measures are being taken to halt the spread of the virus.” 

“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, and the utilization of DOH’s decision tool, or the evaluation assessment tool,” he said. 

Chito Avelino, director of the DOH Epidemiology Bureau, said health authorities have begun contact-tracing, or tracking people who may have been exposed to the patient. 

The patient was known to have also traveled to the cities of Cebu and Dumaguete. 

He said they would trace details of the woman’s flights and track passengers who were seated close to her. 

“For the plane, we do the rules of 4 – that means, we need to identify four passengers in front, four passengers at the back, and four passengers on both sides [of the patient]. Then we contact these passengers and advise them accordingly,” Avelino said. 

He said health authorities would also look at places where she stayed to determine people who had contact with the patient. 

“And from there, do the mandatory quarantine to observe them if ever they will manifest any signs and symptoms of respiratory infection,” he added. 

Some 23 other individuals are under investigation for the virus and are still in hospital, while 5 have been discharged but are under strict monitoring, Duque said. 

Another patient under investigation died on Wednesday, he said. 

A Chinese man checked for the 2019-nCoV died of pneumonia at the San Lazaro Hospital on Wednesday. It has not been confirmed if the patient, who was from Yunnan, China, also carried the virus. 

Duque called for calm amid the first confirmed 2019-nCoV case in the country. 

“… I urge the public to stay calm and remain vigilant at all times. Let us continue to practice good personal hygiene, and indeed adopt healthy lifestyles,” he said. 

The 2019-nCoV has killed at least 170 and infected nearly 8,000, spreading from its epicenter in Wuhan, China to several countries in Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East. 

Its symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties, according to the World Health Organization.

To better protect the country from the virus, the Philippines’ Bureau of Immigration earlier suspended the issuance of visas upon arrival for Chinese nationals.