THE DEPARTMENT of Health (DoH) on Monday reported 10 new cases of the novel coronavirus in the Philippines — all Filipinos aged 24 to 72 — bringing the total infections to 20.
Fourteen cases were reported in the past 24 hours, while 17 of the total were confirmed just this month.
Before last week, the Philippines had not reported any new cases for weeks.
DoH received news of the 10 new cases before lunch yesterday and had sent teams to trace people who may have had contact with the patients, Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said at a briefing.
“DoH is also currently in coordination with concerned local government units and centers for health development for localized response and implementation of infection prevention and control measures,” the agency said in a separate statement.
The department was coordinating with police and other agencies “to immediately identify, and isolate if needed, those who may have had contact with the confirmed cases,” Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said in the statement.
Of the 10 new cases, two had been exposed to a known coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patient, according to DoH.
It had yet to determine the travel or exposure history of one patient. Three had no travel history overseas, and the rest had recently traveled to either the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Taiwan or Japan, it said.
DoH on Sunday night reported four new infections after confirming the first local transmission involving a Filipino couple last week.
It raised the country’s alert level to Code Red sublevel 1 on Saturday as health authorities “prepare for a possible increase in suspected and confirmed cases.”
DoH yesterday said 468 contacts from the fourth to 10th patients had been identified, six of whom were isolated.
Meanwhile, President Rodrigo R. Duterte issued a proclamation dated March 8 declaring a state of public health emergency to “capacitate” the government to immediately act to contain an outbreak.
All citizens, tourists and business owners must follow what is within the law and comply with government orders on the disease.
Also yesterday, senators slammed health officials for failing to buy enough testing kits for suspected carriers of the COVID-19 that has killed more than 3,700 people and sickened about 109,000 more, mostly in China.
The agency only has 2,000 kits and expects to receive 4,500 more from the World Health Organization, Alethea De Guzman, a DoH medical specialist, told a Senate hearing.
The department is reviewing a decision it made earlier to limit the use of test kits to travelers from countries with cases of COVID-19, she said.
“You only have 2,000 testing kits out of a 100 million population? You think that’s enough?” a shocked Senator Maria Lourdes Nancy S. Binay said.
“I don’t want to panic, but you’re making me panic because it seems like you didn’t prepare for a local transmission,” she said in mixed English and Filipino.
Senator Imee R. Marcos said the agency should have prioritized the test kits instead of asking for a P43-million budget “for various needs.”
Mr. Duque earlier said there was a “global shortage” in COVID-19 test kits. He noted that testing 100 million people was ideal but it was not feasible.
Ms. Binay also criticized DoH for its slow public announcement of new coronavirus cases.
She said netizens on social media had been ahead in circulating reports about a new infection at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig.
“Speed up the announcement and the dissemination of information because the public will lose confidence,” she said in Filipino.
Ms. Binay noted that while a patient has privacy rights, the good of the majority should prevail.
Of the four COVID-19 cases announced on Sunday, one is a 38-year-old Taiwanese male, and another is a 32-year-old Filipino male who had traveled to Japan, according to DoH. An 86-year-old American male who had traveled to the US and South Korea, and a 57-year-old Filipino with no history of foreign travels have also been infected, it said.
The patients had been admitted at the Makati Medical Center, St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig, The Medical City and St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City, the agency said yesterday.
Last week, DoH confirmed three COVID-19 cases — a 62-year-old man who had not traveled overseas tested positive for the virus, his wife and a 48-year-old man who had traveled to Tokyo.
Earlier, three Chinese visitors were infected with the virus — one of them died, and the other two have since recovered and left the country. The Philippines had not reported any new cases for weeks before last week.
Also yesterday, President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed an order declaring a public health emergency over a potential coronavirus outbreak in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, Albay Rep. Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda recommended “isolation shock” to contain the deadly virus.
“During epidemics, everyone is a suspect, thus the need for isolation shock,” he told reporters.
“A lockdown of the National Capital Region should not be off the table if needed to slow down the transmission of COVID-19,” he added.
Mr. Salceda’s recommendations include suspending classes, stopping work for a week, suspending bus trips and domestic flights and closing the South Luzon and North Luzon Expressways.
The only exceptions to the lockdown should be food, medicines and health-related professions, he said. — Adam J. Ang, Charmaine A. Tadalan and Gillian M. Cortez