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Screengrab from the World Health Organization website

Philippine transport and government authorities have gone on heightened alert in response to the international outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), the virus which was first detected in Wuhan, Hubei province in China.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has put port state control officers on alert, ordering them to increase maritime security efforts, particularly by conducting comprehensive inspection together with the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) of all foreign vessels entering major ports in the country.

“They ensure the implementation of stricter screening and safety measures to prevent the entry and possible spread of the new strain of coronavirus in the Philippines,” PCG commandant Joel Garcia said in a statement.

The move is pursuant to Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade’s directive to increase vigilance against the 2019-nCoV at all of the country’s international gateways.

The Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) has also issued an advisory enjoining all domestic ship owners, operators, and other stakeholders to take the “highest precautionary vigilance and cooperation to prevent, monitor, and report cases of nCoV.”

Ship owners and operators are urged to incorporate measures into their safety management system that will address, among others, coordination with the Department of Health on the employment of standard operating procedures and capacitating the officers on board and crew offshore with knowledge, information, and skills necessary for monitoring and reporting suspected cases of nCoV.

The Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) is also coordinating with BOQ and implementing strict passenger screening at arrival areas. PPA general manager Atty. Jay Daniel Santiago said stringent security measures are also in place especially in areas frequently visited by tourists such as Bohol province and Caticlan in Aklan province.

For its part, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) has suspended indefinitely all airline operations from Wuhan to the country.

All carriers with flights coming directly or connecting from China are also advised by CAB to secure from BOQ a Health Declaration Checklist and to require all passengers and crew on board the aircraft to fill out the checklist prior to disembarkation.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said it has already reactivated the communicable disease preparedness procedures at all airports it handles, especially at international gateways such as Puerto Princesa, General Santos, Zamboanga, Davao, Kalibo, Laoag, and Iloilo.

Meanwhile, Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Ed Monreal has ordered terminal managers to make hand sanitizers available at the four Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminals at all times.

Monreal also ordered an examination booth to be provided for BOQ that has access to an exit to the tarmac in the event a hospital transfer is needed.

The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) has also placed on heightened alert status the sea ports and airport in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone as part of measures to contain the spread of 2019-nCov.

SBMA chairman and administrator Atty. Wilma Eisma said Health Secretary Francisco Duque has advised that “there is not a need just yet to stop the entry of cruise ships in Subic in view of established safety measures in the Freeport.”

Duque, however, also advised SBMA to be on standby should drastic measures, such as a temporary ban on cruise ships, be deemed necessary.

According to Subic Quarantine Station chief Dr. Joseph Macaraeg, safety protocols are in place and medical quarantine officers are already on board cruise ships from the last port of departure before the ships arrive at Philippine ports to conduct quarantine screening on board.

SBMA and BOQ have also agreed to use the isolation facility at the Subic Bay International Airport, which was established during the SARS outbreak of 2003, in case a highly suspected case of 2019-nCov is detected in Subic.

Cebu, Davao measures

As this developed, the Cebu Port Authority (CPA) is planning to purchase at least 16 thermal scanners for all the ports in Cebu to detect passengers showing signs of 2019-nCoV infection. Thermal scanners are already working at Mactan-Cebu International Airport.

The Davao City Health Office is also closely coordinating with BOQ to step up screening of people coming to the city from all points, especially from Davao international Airport, which receives daily domestic flights and international flights from Hong Kong, Singapore, Manado and Quanzhou. The airport is already equipped with thermal scanners.

The 2019-nCoV, also known as the Wuhan coronavirus, is a contagious virus that causes respiratory infection and has been shown capable of human-to-human transmission. The virus was first identified by authorities in Wuhan, Hubei, China, in December last year, and has already spread to more than a dozen countries in Asia, as well as to the United States, Canada, and some parts of Europe.

More than 100 deaths due to the virus have been recorded even as the microbe continues to infect thousands.

There is currently no positive case of the virus in the Philippines as of January 28, but several people suspected of carrying the virus are already being monitored and tested by authorities. – Roumina Pablo

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