Customs on high alert from 'ukay-ukay' imports from countries with Wuhan coronavirus

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The Bureau of Customs says officials are on guard for the entry of exotic animals, food, and even used clothing being brought to the Philippines, as the Wuhan coronavirus spreads worldwide. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 29) — The Bureau of Customs said it is on high alert regarding shipments of "ukay-ukay" or used clothing, amid the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak that has spread to several areas worldwide.

Although the Department of Health (DOH) has not tagged clothes as possible carriers of the viral disease that originated in Wuhan, China, Customs officials said they are not taking any chances.

"It doesn't hurt that we be vigilant about them... Right now, we're on very high alert on used clothing," Customs Assistant Commissioner Vincent Maronilla told reporters on Wednesday.

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The focus has been given to shipments coming from countries with confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus. CNN International reported that 132 people died in China, with 6,056 confirmed cases worldwide as of Wednesday morning.

In the Philippines, the DOH said there are no confirmed cases of the disease. However, authorities reported that a Chinese man being tested for the virus died in a hospital in Manila on Wednesday morning. The man reportedly had pneumonia and tested positive for human immunodeficiency virus.

Maronilla added that by law, shipping used clothes and selling them in the Philippines is illegal. Republic Act 4653 signed in 1966 banned imported rags and used clothing to be sold here, in order to "maintain the dignity of the nation."

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Customs personnel added that they are guarding against the entry of "exotic" animals as well as other food items which could be carriers of the virus. Frontline examiners have also been directed to wear complete protective gear when going through products and cargo shipped from abroad.

"We don’t allow any importation of food products without the corresponding license coming from the Food and Drug Authority or the Department of Agriculture," Maronilla added.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Ina Andolong contributed to this report.