Filipinos on surgical mask frenzy mode as PH confirms first novel coronavirus case

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 31) – Since the Philippines reported its first case of the novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV, fear of catching the respiratory disease caused by the deadly virus has spread quickly.

CNN Philippines learned that medical supply stores in Manila, Pagadian City and Bukidnon have run out surgical masks amid growing anxiety about the novel coronavirus, which has killed 213 people and sickened over 9,000 so far in mainland China.

People flocked to medical equipment shops in Cebu City and Bambang in Manila in search of face masks, not minding the heat and the long queues.

Face masks for free

Despite the shortage, one Bambang store opted to give their remaining face masks for free. Individuals may go to the cashier area of the The Medical Depot and ask for a free mask.

The crowd caused traffic in Bambang area and prompted law enforcers to deploy their personnel in case a riot erupts.

Hours after Philippine health authorities confirmed that the 2019-nCoV has reached the country, the local government of Manila announced in a statement that 500,000 masks would be distributed to elementary to college students, in public schools across the nation’s capital.

In Pagadian City, face masks have been out of stock in some drug stores since late Thursday. A few hospital pharmacies were said to have a handful left.

Experts have repeatedly highlighted the need to observe good hygiene such as frequent handwashing, wearing of protective masks or staying at home when sick, avoiding crowded places or contact with people who show signs of respiratory illness and cooking food thoroughly, to reduce the risk of contracting a disease.

Preventive actions vs 2019-nCoV

The 2019-nCoV scare also prompted the Supreme Court to issue an advisory, urging their court personnel to wear masks inside courtrooms, halls of justice, and judiciary buildings.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board has also mandated all public utility vehicle drivers and conductors to wear face masks as a precaution.

To prevent the virus from spreading, President Rodrigo Duterte has issued an order to temporarily stop the entry of all Chinese nationals from China's Hubei province, where Wuhan — the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak — is located, Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said on Friday.

On Thursday, the Department of Health announced Thursday that a 38-year-old female Chinese national who traveled to the Philippines from Wuhan via Hong Kong tested positive for the virus. She and her boyfriend are isolated in a referral hospital for infectious diseases in Manila.

The virus has spread globally, affecting 22 places outside of mainland China, CNN reported. The cases in China exceeded the number infected by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2002 and 2003, but SARS has a higher mortality rate so far.

SARS is caused by SARS coronavirus, which is of the same family of viruses as 2019-nCoV.

World Health Organization has declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern “because of what is happening in other countries.” W.H.O. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement on Thursday.

W.H.O. defines a public health emergency of international concern as "an extraordinary event" constituting a "public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response."

DOLE urges safety measures at workplace

The Department of Labor and Employment also urged employers and establishments to provide relevant information to their employees concerning the novel coronavirus, including the precautionary measures to be taken in order to avoid it.

DOLE's Labor Advisory no.4 encouraged employers to make adjustments needed regarding work schemes, and maintain cleanliness in the workplace by making sanitizers and disinfectants available.

“Aside from these, we are also directing employers to monitor the health of workers particularly those with fever and flu symptoms and those who have traveled to or worked in countries affected with the 2019-nCoV,” Labor Chief Silvestre Bello III said.

For the healthcare sector, it is advised for employers to establish a screening program in accordance with the guidelines set by the Department of Health.

“Workers in these workplaces are also reminded to take extra precautionary measures which include strict hygiene and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) while at work,” he said.

CNN Philippines' Gerg Cahiles, Dale Israel, Leah Agonoy and Melchor Velez contributed to this report