Philippines records its first local case of coronavirus

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 6) — A Filipino man who has not traveled out of the country recently has tested positive for coronavirus, health officials said on Friday. He is one of two new cases of coronavirus disease or COVID-19 in the country.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the 62-year-old Filipino who contracted the disease has no known travel to any country with confirmed coronavirus cases, but he regularly visited a Muslim prayer hall in Barangay Greenhills, San Juan City.

"It can be considered as a local case... The absence of travel is a clear indication that this is a local case," he said in a media briefing.

Duque was quick to clarify that the new local case cannot be considered the start of the community-based spread of coronavirus in the country.

"There is no transmission to speak of as of yet because we only have one. We're doing contact tracing to establish whether or not there are other cases or clustering of cases. But now it's premature to say there is a local transmission," he said.

However, the World Health Organization considers a case local transmission when the source of infection is "within the reporting location," in this case, the Philippines.

WHO Country Representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe in a briefing earlier said, "even the fifth case is a local transmission." He stressed that there is no widespread transmission since what the Philippines has now are two "isolated cases in two different localities in Metro Manila.''

But he later clarified that even the travel history of the patient needs to be further investigated before they could say it is a local transmission.

"It's clear that there is no at this point known travel history but it's very early in the investigation. The travel history, the contacts need to be investigated and followed up," Abeyasinghe told CNN Philippines' News Night.

He added that they need to confirm how and where the patient got the infection.

"It may be a local case but we have no clear evidence at this point of time so in any epidemiological investigation there is a time you are not clear where the infection was actually acquired and how," he added.

However, Abeyasinghe also admitted that the investigation could lead to a dead end.

"We are well aware that the nature of this disease is that many people could be mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic and so they may not seek treatment but they could actually serve as points of infection to others so the investigation may even end up being inconclusive because we may not be able to find out how this person got infected," said Abeyasinghe.

Duque said the man considered to be the fifth confirmed case in the country had hypertension and diabetes mellitus. He started coughing on February 25 and went to Cardinal Santos Medical Center on March 1. He was then admitted and diagnosed with severe pneumonia. DOH confirmed he was infected with coronavirus on March 5.

Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergerie said a relative who has been in close contact with the man has shown flu-like symptoms. She said the relative was quarantined in a hospital and tested for coronavirus.

The WHO said there is no need to close down the unnamed Muslim prayer hall over one confirmed case, but San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora on Friday ordered the immediate disinfection and temporary closure of the place.

Duque urged those who visited the worship area who have fever or respiratory symptoms to call the DOH hotline at (02)8-651-7800.

Zamora added that the confirmed case was not from San Juan but he was confined in the city's Cardinal Santos Medical Center and diagnosed with severe pneumonia. The man was transferred to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine after testing positive for the virus on March 5.

Meanwhile, the second new case of COVID-19 in the country is a 48-year-old Filipino man who visited Tokyo, Japan. Duque said he returned to the Philippines on February 25 and started having chills and fever on March 3. He tested positive on March 5. Duque said he is in stable condition.

The two patients - one from Metro Manila and the other a resident of a town near the metropolis - are both confined at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

The DOH is tracking down the people the two Filipinos came in contact with. Vergerie said as of Friday afternoon, the agency has tracked down 29 people who came in contact with the two confirmed cases.

"Samples have already been collected from close contacts. DOH is also in close coordination with the concerned local government units for concerted action on identifying persons who had interaction with the confirmed cases," Duque said.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines now stands at 5, with one death. The other two cases have recovered and returned to their hometown in China.

The novel coronavirus has killed more than 3,383 people — the vast majority in mainland China. There are now over 98,000 global cases, with infections in at least 88 countries and territories. Nearly 17,500 cases have been confirmed outside of mainland China.

Fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, and trouble breathing are some of the most common symptoms of the novel coronavirus. Some also experience diarrhea. Health officials remind the public to observe proper handwashing and maintain social distancing.