Quarantine bureau told to be alert for mysterious virus from China

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Around 38 to 40 thermal scanners have been deployed at Philippine air and sea ports to check passengers from China and nearby countries. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 7) — The Department of Health has instructed the Bureau of Quarantine to intensify surveillance amid a mysterious virus that has infected dozens of people in China.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque, who spoke with an official from the World Health Organization, said around 59 people in the East Asian country have been reported to have contracted an unknown viral strain of pneumonia.

"They still do not know the cause of this severe pneumonia but they have ruled out [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome] and bird flu and [Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus] according to the WHO," said Duque on Monday.

Around 38 to 40 thermal scanners have been deployed at Philippine air and sea ports to check passengers from China and nearby countries. Should the scanner detect body temperature of 36.5 degrees celsius or higher, the passenger will be led to the quarantine bureau for further evaluation. If the passenger‘s fever persists along with respiratory symptoms, he will be sent to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.

Some passengers said they were advised by authorities to reveal where they came from and to be cautious when travelling to other countries.

In Cebu, measures have been placed at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport, which has daily flights from Chinese cities.

Airport spokesperson Mary Ann Dimabayao said they will use thermal scanners from the SARS outbreak to monitor for carriers of the virus strain.

Dr. Joyce Gonzales of the airport's quarantine bureau said they are particularly monitoring Chinese nationals and people from Chinese cities. The biggest influx of tourists in Cebu usually arrive in January for the Sinulog festivities on January 19.

Reports of the virus first surfaced in late December in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, causing concern over the possible resurgence of the SARS — an acute viral respiratory illness first reported in China in 2002. SARS caused a pandemic, spreading to 37 countries and killing 774 people until 2003.

WHO said the symptoms of the pneumonia are mainly fever, with a number of patients having difficulty breathing, and chest radiographs showing invasive lesions of both lungs.

Grifton Medina, Bureau of Immigration Port Operations Division Chief, said the Philippines is vulnerable to the virus given that there is an influx of Chinese tourists in the country.

"I think it's a major impact considering na mayroon tayong [we have an] influx of visitors from China. Chinese tourists is number 2 when it comes to tourist arrivals next to Korea. Number 3 is the US, number 4 is Japan," he said.

Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, more than three million Chinese nationals have entered the country.

CNN Philippines correspondent Crissy Dimatulac and Cebu-based journalist Dale Israel contributed to this report.