DOH sets contact tracing of foreigners who got coronavirus disease after travel to PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 6) –  The Department of Health will trace individuals who may have come into contact with foreigners who tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) after traveling to the Philippines.

Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a briefing Friday the Health Department has formed teams which will track down these foreign nationals to know if they have transmitted COVID-19 to others.

“We have mobilized our epidemiologic and surveillance unit and our Metro Manila Center for Health Development para i-lead itong teams na ito para magawa natin ang contact tracing for all of these identified individuals,” Vergeire added.

The health official was referring to the 38-year-old Taiwanese male who visited the Philippines from February 28 to March 3, the 44-year-old Japanese male who spent some time in Metro Manila from February 21 to 28, and a 60-year-old female with travel history to Pangasinan and Manila between February 13 and March 2. There was another report that a person who traveled from the Philippines was also admitted in a COVID-19 ward in a hospital in India, but Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said he has not been made aware of this.

Vergeire said the contact tracing protocols will still be the same, which means once contacts are tracked down, they will be advised to undergo self-quarantine. And if and when they develop COVID-19 symptoms, they will be admitted to a hospital and tested for the viral disease.

Did they contract the virus in the Philippines?

Health experts said it is possible the Japanese man contracted COVID-19 in other countries as he had gone to Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Japan, which all have reported confirmed cases, prior to his travel to the Philippines.

“The infection could have happened in any one of these countries,” Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, World Health Organization country representative to the Philippines, said.

“The extensive travel history of the patient suggests possible contraction of the disease in another country,” Duque said.

Meanwhile, Duque said for the Taiwanese man, all “points to possible infection before the patient traveled to the Philippines.” He noted the person developed abdominal discomfort and diarrhea on March 2, and experienced sore throat, fever, and malaise on March 3. The patient consulted at an outpatient clinic in Taiwan on March 4, and was confirmed positive for COVID-19 on March 5.

As for the case involving a female from Australia, DOH is still verifying information with the International Health Regulations National Focal Point Australia.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the country has gone up to five, with one fatality. Three of them were Chinese nationals from Wuhan – China's city that is at the epicenter of the outbreak. Two of them were Filipino men - a 48-year-old with travel history to Japan and a 62-year-old Filipino man with “no known history of travel," Duque said. The 62-year-old man is the first confirmed local case in the Philippines. One of his relatives is also being tested for the COVID-19 after manifesting common signs of the viral illness, Vergeire said.

There are nearly 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases globally with over 3,000 deaths, data from the Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering show. The John Hopkins University map follows COVID-19 cases across the world.