MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Health (DOH) is preparing for the pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca next month after the World Health Organization (WHO) monitored cases of a deadly new coronavirus linked to Saudi Arabia.
“Many (Filipinos) attend the Hajj. They would eventually come home to various destinations in our country. So (how to deal with them) is a challenge for us,”said Assistant Health Secretary Eric Tayag.
Tayag could not give an assurance that the Philippines is prepared in case the new virus enters the country.
“This is new, there is really no data on this and there are only three cases reported. The WHO is closely monitoring this. And because it is new, the WHO found it wise to alert countries,”he added.
Tayag, however, assured the public that the contingency measures implemented by the country during the SARS epidemic are still in place.
“We were able to maintain the SARS (isolation) room in our hospitals and we have asked the RITM (Research Institute for Tropical Medicine of the DOH) to prepare its laboratory. We already have our surveillance system so the moment the WHO tells us, we will activate that,”he said.
But as a precautionary measure, Tayag advised the public to observe proper hygiene through regular handwashing and covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing since coronavirus could be transmitted through respiratory droplets.
“If you are three feet away from a person and this person coughs, you will not get the virus. That is the distance where the virus can be transferred to others,”he added.
The WHO is also reviewing the implementation of International Health Regulations (IHR) in the Western Pacific amid the threats posed by a new virus.
Health Secretary Enrique Ona assured the people that the DOH is ready to respond to the new virus.
In a statement, Ona said the Philippines is “more prepared today in responding to potential infectious disease threats such as severe respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus being reported today from the Middle East.”
“Our experience in the previous global public health emergencies such as the SARS Coronavirus in 2002-2003, the Pandemic Influenza H1N1 in 2009-2010, has given us the necessary capacity to respond to similar threats,” he added.
The National Epidemiology Center will be in charge of public health surveillance in collaboration with the RITM and the Bureau of Quarantine.
OFWs warnedThe Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) warned departing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) to observe proper hygiene to avoid contracting the coronavirus when they go abroad.
Health and labor authorities have issued an advisory to OFWs who are planning to leave for Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, after WHO issued a Global Alert and Response (GAR) bulletin after the new virus was identified in United Kingdom last Saturday.