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28 Filipinos Positive, Travel Ban Lifted, Buffet Danger, And All The New Developments About COVID-19 Coronavirus

Keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Here are all the new information and news that you need to know about the newly named COVID-19 novel corona virus

The novel Coronavirus has been renamed, new security measures are abound, and false information are once again brewing around. Here are all the new information that you need to know about the COVID-19 outbreak.

Corona virus now named COVID-19

Last week, February 11, the World Health Organization announced the new and official name of the disease caused by the nCoV2019 (novel coronavirus 2019). The disease will now be officially called COVID-19 to eliminate all associations with a geographical location, individual, or group of people.

The decision came after many people felt that calling the disease Wuhan coronavirus or Chinese coronavirus contributed to racist dialogue and discrimination against those of Chinese descent.

In the Philippines, the COVID-19 outbreak sparked a lot of tension between Pinoys and those of Chinese descent. Although many come from frustrations that have burst after the increase of allegedly rude Chinese nationals in the metro, some policies and speech against the Chinese communities—even Filipino-Chinese—are crossing the line and should be put under control. On January 31, Adamson University ordered all its Chinese students to go on a 14-day self-quarantine. 

Image from Mark Demayo/ ABS-CBN News

Confirmed cases remain at 3

Despite the public panic over the Coronavirus outbreak, confirmed cases in the Philippines remain at three, where one died due to severe pneumonia caused by COVID-19, and the other two have since recovered and have been dismissed by the hospital. 

According to the Department of Health's official statistics website on COVID-19 in the Philippines, as of February 17, confirmed cases are at 3, cases tested negative at 453, and cases pending test results at 22. 

28 Filipinos positive for COVID-19—outside the country

Apart from the three Chinese nationals that were diagnosed with COVID-19 inside the Philippines, 28 Filipinos are now confirmed to have the virus, all of them outside the Philippine shores. One of these is a Filipino based in UAE, while the rest are all those affected onboard the Japanese cruise ship, Diamond Princess.

As of today, the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that there are now 355 passengers aboard the Diamond Princess confirmed to have COVID-19; 27 of those are Filipinos. According to Department of Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III, they are now working to bring home the some 500 Filipino crew members aboard the cruise ship.

The 14-day quarantine of the passengers aboard the cruise ship will end of February 19. And everyone who did not test positive will be allowed to go home.

Image from Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters via ABS-CBN News
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Safety measures in place

Currently, a number of local government agencies and private companies are starting to put safety measures in place to keep the virus from spreading. In the ports and airports, scanning machines and digital thermometers have been deployed, and visual advisories have been disseminated to prevent and avoid contraction of the virus.

In many private companies like ABS-CBN Corp., employees are asked to submit themselves to self-quarantine if they exhibit signs of cough, flu, and fever, or if they have recently traveled to any of the affected countries. Malls, hotels, and schools have also equipped their entrance security with infrared thermometers to deny access to anyone who has fever. In Makati, all business and commercial establishments have been asked to submit a list of all employees who have recently traveled to China as a preventive measure.

Currently, isolation facilities all over the Philippines include the Athlete’s Village in Clark; isolation tents at Quezon City Medical Center, Rosario Maclang Bautista General Hospital, and Novaliches District Hospital; quarantine tent at Pasig City General Hospital; and the Friendship Suites in Makati.

Travel ban to Taiwan lifted

Despite the increasing safety measures, the government's Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) has decided to lift the travel ban to Taiwan after Taiwan threatened to remove visa-free privilege for Filipinos. In a report by ABS-CBN News, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, however, reiterated that the lifting of the travel ban was a public health decision, and not a response to the sanctions that Taiwan threatened the country with.

The decision came after the Taiwan government also reiterated that they only have 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19 to date. Some 410 Filipino workers in Taiwan also signed an appeal letter to President Rodrigo Duterte prior to the lifting of the ban, saying that the ban might prevent them from complying with their work contracts.

Currently, the travel ban is still in place to and from China and its territories Hong Kong and Macau. Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who work in Hong Kong but are currently stranded in the Philippines due to the travel ban have also written an appeal letter to the International Court of Justice to let them travel back to Hong Kong so they can resume work. The group #StrandedPH appeals that many of them are in jeopardy of losing their jobs because they could not go back to Hong Kong because of the travel ban. According to the IATF, they are still reviewing travel restrictions to Macau and Hong Kong.

Image from Tyrone Siu/Reuters via ABS-CBN News
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FALSE: COVID-19 will not spread in the Philippines because of hot weather

More false information are also spreading in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Some Facebook posts are claiming that the coronavirus will not spread here in the Philippines due to the country’s high temperature and humidity.

The post claims that “The virus thrives at 6 degrees centigrade outside a host but will not survive longer than 5 minutes in temperatures above 20 degrees centigrade…The virus has greater survival outside a host at relative humidity lower than 30% (too dry) or higher than 80% (too humid).”

Image from Rappler

In an e-mail response to Rappler, WHO debunked this speculation, saying that climate is not related to the spread of COVID-19. WHO restated that the virus is transmitted through close contact and droplets, and it has spread just as potently in both hot and humid climates.

FALSE: COVID-19 risk higher in buffet and hotpot restaurants

Last week, news broke out that a family in Hong Kong became infected with the COVID-19 after sharing a communal hotpot meal. After 11 members of the family were confirmed to have contracted the virus, major catering chains in Hong Kong temporarily suspended their hotpot menu items. This has prompted Filipinos to get scared or wary of buffet and hotpot restaurants.

However, DOH Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire clarified in a press conference in Manila that buffet and hotpot restaurants should not be singled out as places to contract COVID-19. According to her, the risk of the virus increases anywhere a crowd gathers, and not necessarily in Chinese, buffet, or shabu-shabu restaurants.

She warned that general precautions still apply anywhere, and people should always practice frequent hand washing, sanitizing, observing proper hygiene, and added safety measures like wearing a mask.

Image from ABS-CBN News

For a close to real-time monitoring of the COVID-19 outbreak, check out the online dashboard by John Hopkins CSSE here, which uses data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO.

Image from John Hopkins CSSE
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Lead photo via Engen Tham and Stella Qiu / Reuters