DOH firm: Only New Clark City as quarantine site for now

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CNN Philippines (February 22) – The Department of Health said Saturday they cannot accommodate the request of a Tarlac town mayor to house other Filipino evacuees from the coronavirus-infected vessel docked off Japan in quarantine sites outside Luzon, saying it is unsafe.

Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told CNN Philippines explained that the decision of authorities to monitor people in one place was to prevent the spread of infection.

Ang ating objective po pag tayo ay nag-iinfection control ay para ma-minimize natin ang mga exposures.”

[Translation: Our objective when we do infection control is to minimize the exposure to the virus.]

The reaction stemmed from Capas Mayor Reynaldo Catacutan’s public opposition to solely use New Clark City as a quarantine area for more than 400 Filipinos heading home from Diamond Princess, where two people have died because of and more than 600 people have tested positive for the virus, the biggest cluster of COVID-19 cases outside mainland China. Of the 600, 49 are Filipinos. Two of them already recovered.

New Clark City, which is completely under the control of the government's Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), is located in the towns of Capas and Bamban in Tarlac province.

Catacutan wanted the task force to send those who are not from northern Philippines to other well-prepared facilities in Visayas and Mindanao as he expressed concern over the health and welfare of thousands of residents living near the New Clark City.

Catacutan stressed the number is just “too much too handle.”

Vergeire responded that while they understand his sentiment, they cannot give in to his appeal.

New Clark City was first used to quarantine 49 Filipinos from Hubei, China, particularly in Wuhan City, where the COVID-19 outbreak began. The municipal council of Capas opposed to using that, too, after claiming they were not informed and “blindsided” about the sudden move, and worrying about the possible economic implications of labeling the area as a quarantine zone.

Catacutan said they agreed to the evacuation plan of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases after being assured Capas residents would be safe and that it would be the “first and last” time the New Clark City would be used as quarantine facility.