PH closely monitoring 24 people for possible Wuhan coronavirus infection

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 28) — Twenty-four people are closely being monitored for possible Wuhan coronavirus infection, the Department of Health said Monday.

There were 27 patients initially under investigation, including 18 in Metro Manila, three in Western Visayas, three in Central Visayas, one each in Mimaropa, Eastern Visayas and Northern Mindanao. They all had a history of travel to Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak, officials said.

Three of them have been discharged after they tested negative for coronavirus infection. Among them is a five-year-old boy from Wuhan in Cebu City who initially tested positive for an unspecified coronavirus. He was eventually cleared of infection with the new strain called 2019-nCoV. It's unclear where the two other patients were monitored before their release.

The DOH said it is awaiting test results from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa City on samples from 13 patients as well as confirmatory test results for six patients whose samples were sent to the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in Australia.

DOH spokesperson Eric Domingo told CNN Philippines' Politics as Usual that there is a "very strong suspicion" that the six are infected with the new coronavirus

Most of the people under investigation for the new coronavirus are Chinese nationals, the DOH said.

There is still no confirmed case of novel coronavirus infection in the country, health officials said.

San Lazaro Hospital spokesperson Dr. Ferdinand de Guzman told CNN Philippines’ Newsroom Ngayon that three Chinese nationals admitted in their hospital showing symptoms of the new coronavirus infection are stable and recovering.

Local testing possible soon

Local health authorities are hoping to receive a primer in 48 hours which will help them diagnose cases of the new coronavirus in the country without having to send samples to Australia, as it takes a long time.

Domingo explained that currently, local health officials first run a fast track diagnostic test on throat swabs and blood samples from patients for 33 pathogens, including four types of coronaviruses.

If they test negative, they then run the samples through a pancoronavirus test which determines if a patient is infected with a coronavirus. If a patient tests positive for a coronavirus infection, they get tested again to check if they were infected with the coronavirus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or the one that causes the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

Should they test negative for both, samples are sent to the laboratory in Australia to see if they were infected with the new strain of coronavirus that has killed at least 106 people and infected 4,515 people in China alone.

“So far, we really cannot say that, ‘Wow, this is like SARS, this is like MERS-CoV,’” DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III said, stressing that the fatality rate from the new coronavirus strain is still low at below three percent.

Duque, however, said the elderly population is the most vulnerable to these pathogens.

READ: How to protect yourself from coronavirus

The Bureau of Immigration ordered Tuesday the suspension of the issuance of visas upon arrival to Chinese nationals to slow down group tours amid fears over the new coronavirus.

The DOH also advised Filipinos to avoid non-essential travel to China.

Several Chinese schools in Manila have also suspended classes this week as a precautionary measure against the possible spread of the novel coronavirus, even if the DOH said class suspensions are not yet necessary.

People can spread the virus before symptoms show, China's health minister said Sunday, complicating efforts to contain the outbreak. Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the World Health Organization’s representative to the Philippines, said this has not yet been confirmed.