Philippines stops accepting flights from Wuhan, origin of new coronavirus

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 23) — The Philippines is suspending all flights from Wuhan City, considered to be ground zero for the new coronavirus which has so far killed 17 and infected more than 500 people in mainland China.

Flights from other parts of China will also be under strict monitoring, the Civil Aeronautics Board said Thursday.

"When you look at the seriousness of the outbreak, Wuhan should be the focus of attention," CAB Executive Director Carmelo Arcilla told reporters.

Two airlines, Pan Pacific Airlines and Royal Air Philippines, offer direct flights from Wuhan City to Kalibo, Aklan. Pan Pacific operates charter flights on the route from Tuesday to Sunday, while Royal Air operates charter flights from Monday to Saturday.

The country's main air gateway, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, does not service direct flights to or from Wuhan.

The Bureau of Immigration said 141 Chinese nationals were onboard the Royal Air flight RW 999 which landed in Kalibo Thursday morning.

The Chinese government had put Wuhan on lockdown Thursday morning, barring all forms of transportation in and out of the city south of Beijing, ahead of the Philippines' most drastic response yet to the disease.

"Even if they lift it, we have to look at our side first and make our own assessment. So our assessment is different from theirs, I mean, even their decision is different from ours," Arcilla said.

Airports across the Philippines, including NAIA, have intensified defenses against the new coronavirus, with thermal scanners to increase their surveillance on passengers coming in. NAIA also has an isolation room in case they need to quarantine a passenger with flu-like illness.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said security measures especially in Kalibo International Airport, which has direct flights from Wuhan -- the Chinese city where the novel coronavirus originated -- are in place to help prevent the virus from entering the Philippines.

CAAP Director General Jim Sydiongco said in a statement Wednesday that they have reactivated communicable disease preparedness procedures and advised their airport frontline personnel to wear face masks, maintain proper hygiene, and practice frequent handwashing.

“Posting of public advisories informing about coronavirus infections and the strict monitoring of suspected passengers are now also being enforced,” Sydiongco added.

Sydiongco also said airports were told to exercise extreme vigilance in screening arriving passengers possibly infected by the new coronavirus. CAAP, a multi-role government agency responsible for the regulation of aviation, operates seven international airports and manages 35 domestic airports.

The death toll from the novel coronavirus called 2019-nCov has risen to 17, as over 500 more cases were reported across China, the United States, South Korea, Thailand, Japan, Macao and Taiwan, sparking fears of a possible pandemic, CNN reported.

There is no confirmed case yet of 2019-nCov in the Philippines, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.

Meanwhile, the Mactan-Cebu airport now requires all frontline personnel to wear face masks for protection since they are the first people who interact with arriving international passengers.

Andrew Harrison, GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corporation executive advisor said other security measures which were put in place at the Mactan Cebu International Airport to prevent the new coronavirus from the entering the province.

Harrison said that all airlines have been instructed to make a standard announcement, advising passengers experiencing flu-like symptoms to alert authorities of their medical condition so they can be screened after they disembark the plane.

There will also be medical teams that will be stationed at both Terminal 1 and 2 of the Mactan-Cebu airport.

Manila International Airport General Manager Ed Monreal said that they are waiting for an advise from the Department of Health if their NAIA personnel should have to wear a face mask.

Additional thermal scanners

Quarantine Officer Paul Longinos said they have added thermal scanners aside from the ones located near the Immigration booth. Handheld scanners were also placed at the aerobridges near the aircraft door.

Meanwhile, if authorities detect that a passenger has symptoms of a respiratory illness, the Bureau of Quarantine will instruct the air carrier to disinfect the entire aircraft, Harrison said.

They are particularly on the lookout for the 36 flights per week that come from Chinese cities, he added

A five-year-old boy from Wuhan was intercepted with his mother upon their arrival in Cebu City on January 12. He tested positive for a still unknown coronavirus.

The Department of Health is waiting for results of confirmatory tests done in Australia on a blood sample and a throat swab from the Chinese boy, who exhibited flu-like symptoms upon arrival in Cebu.

In Bohol, the provincial government has created a technical working group that will come up with protocols on how to handle the health issue concerning the new coronavirus.

Chinese tourists top the list of most frequent visitors in the province, according to the data from the Bohol Provincial Tourism Office.

The working group will meet soon to finalize the protocols, officials said, though the scheduled of the meeting has yet to be set.

Two suspected cases in Bohol

Acting Gov. Rene Relampagos said Wednesday that there are two suspected cases of Wuhan coronavirus infection in two separate hospitals in Bohol. One was a two-year-old Chinese national who was released after samples were taken. The other suspected patient was also tested for the new respiratory virus. Relampagos said in an interview with reporters that the two patients were allowed to go home.

Officials in China are racing to contain the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. To stop the virus from spreading, Wuhan's airport and railway stations will be “temporarily closed” for departing passengers, CNN reported Wednesday, citing an announcement from the city's coronavirus command center. They take effect at 10 a.m. local time Thursday, it added.

Common symptoms of 2019-nCoV include fever, cough and colds, breathing difficulties, shortness of breath. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more serious diseases such as such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), according to the World Health Organization. They can be transmitted from animal to person or infected human to others, the WHO said.

CNN Philippines' Dale Israel and Dave Albarado contributed to this report