Sunday, 2 February 2020


Officials in the Philippines are racing to identify people who had contact with a 44-year-old man who has become the first person to die from the new coronavirus outside China.
The man, who was from Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak in China, had visited three provinces after arriving in the Philippines from Hong Kong.
He had been travelling with a 38-year-old woman, who was the first person in the Philippines confirmed last week to have the virus. She remains in isolation in hospital in Manila, but is no longer experiencing symptoms.
Health authorities are now contacting employees of hotels in which the pair stayed, as well as passengers who were on the same flight, in a race to stop infection. The travellers had visited Cebu, Negros Oriental, as well as Manila.
On Sunday, president Rodrigo Duterte announced a temporary ban on all non-Filipino travellers arriving from China and its autonomous regions, following growing public anger over the government’s response to the outbreak and calls for tougher action. The Philippines has offered voluntary repatriation of its citizens in China, with a flight expected next week.
Similar restrictions have also been introduced by the US, Japan, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, despite criticism from China and an assessment from the World Health Organization that suggested such measures were unnecessarily hurting trade and travel. Some argue that wide-ranging bans are a blunt tool, and that governments should instead focus on targeted precautions.
In Manila, officials emphasised that there had been no cases of human-to-human transmission in the country. Many of the capital’s shops have sold out of masks and hand sanitiser, and the Catholic church has said communion should be given into people’s hands rather than directly into their mouths, and that holy water should be changed regularly.
There should also be no holding of hands during prayers, it stated. Protective cloth is also being installed on the grills of confessionals in a country where 80% of the population is Catholic.
Tests for the virus in the Philippines were initially being carried out in Australia, but the country now has its own testing kits, officials said. There is concern that other countries in the region – including Myanmar and Indonesia – still lack capacity to identify the virus. Last week, health officials in Myanmar said they had sent samples to Bangkok for analysis, but that results may take five days to come through.
On Friday, Thailand recorded its first human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus after a taxi driver was apparently infected by a traveller.
Symptoms can be either mild or severe and can include fever, a cough and shortness of breath. It is also possible to be infected without showing symptoms, though the WHO said the main driver of transmission, based on available data, was symptomatic cases.
The Philippines health secretary, Francisco Duque, said the male patient had been showing signs of improvement but deteriorated 24 hours before his death. He died from severe pneumonia.
“We are currently working with the Chinese embassy to ensure the dignified management of the remains according to national and international standards to contain the disease,” Duque said.
In total, two cases have been recorded in the Philippines, though test results in a further 10 cases are yet to be confirmed.
Dr Tony Leachon, a public health reform advocate, told the Guardian the Philippine government had been too slow to impose a travel ban, and accused the WHO of being subject to political influence. “Countries should break protocols to save their people. In epidemics, viruses can’t survive without a host. Thus we need to limit the travel of the people causing infection. That’s mainland China.”

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