Philippines confirms first case of novel coronavirus

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 30) — The Philippines has confirmed its first case of novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV.

The Department of Health announced Thursday that a 38-year-old female Chinese national who travelled to the Philippines from Wuhan — the Chinese city where the coronavirus outbreak originated — via Hong Kong tested positive for the virus. She arrived in the country on January 21, the DOH said.

The DOH further disclosed that she consulted with a doctor after experiencing mild cough. She is no longer exhibiting any symptoms of coronavirus infection.

DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III confirmed to CNN Philippines' Newsroom that the woman has been confined at the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, a special national hospital for infectious diseases.

“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,” Duque said in an earlier press briefing.

Further, Duque told Newsroom that the Chinese nationals admitted in San Lazaro Hospital were put in isolation.

"They are in isolation room, absoultely sealed off form anybody, except the health care workers taking care of them and they are in their full gear," the Health chief assured.

DOH Epidemiology Bureau Director Ferchito Avelino said they are also looking at places where the woman stayed in Cebu and Dumaguete. He added that they are working to identify and quarantine employees at establishments who had close contact with the woman

Avelino also said they are also working with the Bureau of Quarantine to determine what flights the Chinese woman took to the Philippines. He said they will track down the four passengers nearest to the front, back and sides of the patient, contact them and advise them accordingly.

The Philippine National Police has vowed to assist the DOH in monitoring all major entry points in the country. It said that local police are also on standby to track down other people who may have been infected with 2019-nCoV.

The city government of Manila will also distribute around 400,000 face masks to students in public schools in the Philippine capital, Mayor Isko Moreno said.

"We ask the public not to panic and to remain calm as the government, especially the DOH, is on top of the situation," Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar said. "We would like to assure them that the relevant health, research, and law enforcement agencies are working together to prevent the disease from spreading."

Travel ban sought

The DOH said that it is now investigating 29 people suspected of 2019-nCoV infection. Eighteen of them are in Metro Manila, four are in Central Visayas, three in Western Visayas, and one each in Mimaropa, Eastern Visayas, Northern Mindanao and Davao.

One person who had been under investigation for the coronavirus has died of pneumonia. Health officials said that the 39-year-old man has not yet tested positive for 2019-nCoV, but has tested positive for HIV, which if untreated can leave the body susceptible to all kinds of infections.

Duque said he will recommend to the task force on emerging diseases to ban the entry of all travellers from China's Hubei province, where Wuhan is located.

“But I believe that will still change. It could expand, increase the number of places depending on the assessment that is going to be done by the WHO (World Health Organization),” he said.

Some areas in the country have enforced stricter entry rules, with Samal Island in Davao del Norte barring entry of all people who came from countries which have reported cases of 2019-nCoV. Cebu, meanwhile, is seeking to enforce a 14-day quarantine for tourists coming from China.

Some lawmakers are also calling for the government to temporarily ban all people who came from China from entering the country.

Among them is Senator Risa Hontiveros who wants a 30-day travel ban on all individuals travelling to the Philippines who passed through China in the past two weeks.

“If Hong Kong has drastically reduced high-speed train and ferry services from China, then why can’t we do the same?" said Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, who is also seeking a travel ban.

The DOH advised the public to practice good hygiene, drink lots of water, eat food rich in vitamins A, C, E and the mineral zinc, avoid crowded places and to wear a surgical mask if they feel any flu-like symptoms.

Some of the common symptoms of a 2019-nCoV infection are headache and weakness, runny nose, cough or sore throat, and muscle pain. It may also cause high fever, trouble breathing, pneumonia, sepsis and even death.

Worldwide, the number of people infected with 2019-nCoV has exceeded the count during the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak, with now more than 7,700 confirmed cases in mainland China, including 170 deaths, CNN reported.

This marks an increase of almost 30 percent in the number of cases from the previous day.

Cases have also been reported in countries including Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Sri Lanka, India and Australia.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Triciah Terada contributed to this report.