12 Filipino seafarers from India positive for COVID-19 evacuated, to be moved to quarantine center

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 7) — An all-Filipino crew onboard a container vessel from India is receiving emergency medical help after 12 members tested positive for COVID-19, including two seafarers in critical condition, officials said Friday.

The maritime sector of the Department of Transportation on Friday reported that MV Athens Bridge departed India on April 22 then made a stop in Malaysia. When it arrived in Vietnam on May 1, it was found that 12 of the 21 Filipino crew members tested positive through RT-PCR tests.

The Philippine Coast Guard on Thursday received a request from the captain of the vessel — which was docked near Corregidor — to evacuate two crew members who were in critical condition.

The two critical patients were removed from the vessel and brought to a hospital in Manila. MARINA OIC Deputy Administrator Capt. Jeffry Solon said they are in stable condition.

The rest of the crew are quarantined inside the vessel and given medical supplies, including oxygen tanks, while docked in Manila.

But the Department of Health said the 10 other patients, and nine crew members who tested negative for COVID-19, will be transferred to a Bureau of Quarantine facility after the vessel was deemed unfit to be used for isolation due to lack of rooms.

"Ngayong umaga nagdesisyon na ang Bureau of Quarantine that we will transfer those identified positive sa isang quarantine facility here in Manila. Also, ang mga na-expose na crew members ika-quarantine na rin," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a briefing.

[Translation: The BOQ decided this morning that we will transfer the positive cases to a quarantine facility in Manila. Those who have been exposed to the patients will also be quarantined.]

The 10 mild cases and the nine other crew members will undergo another swab test. If they test positive, their samples will be subjected to genomic sequencing to check if they are carrying new COVID-19 variants, including the "double mutant" B.1.617 variant first found in India.

Meanwhile, the samples of the two critical patients have been sent to the Philippine Genome Center.

Aside from the seafarers, there are five people who traveled from India tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in the Philippines. Their samples are also being reviewed. The DOH is also tracking the other passengers they came in contact with.

The country has yet to record a case of the B.1.617 variant that carries two mutations. It's not yet clear how many infections have been linked to this double mutant variant, or whether the strain is any more dangerous, but India's health ministry said "such mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity."

The Philippines has imposed an entry ban until May 14 on inbound passengers who traveled to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to prevent the entry of the variant first detected in India.

India has been recording the world's highest number of new daily COVID-19 cases in its catastrophic second wave of infections, The country's cases have soared to over 21 million, while more than 234,000 people have lost their lives, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.