Philippine government’s order to deport travelers from Wuhan: Was it too late?

January 24, 2020 - 6:17 PM
Bureau of Immigration
Undated photo of people lining up before officers of the Bureau of Immigration in an airport. (The STAR/Rudy Santos)

More than a hundred tourists arrived in Aklan from Wuhan province in China, the ground zero for a novel strain of the infectious coronavirus, despite a health alert.

The government on Friday then decided to deport the 135 individuals who landed in Kalibo, Aklan before the Philippines officially declared a travel ban from the Chinese province.

Wyrlou Samodio, the chief of the Civil Aeronautics Board‘s legal division, said in a dzMM interview that Philippine carriers Royal Air Charter and Pan Pacific Airline will fly the travelers back via four flights.

Deportation despite clearance

The tourists were not quarantined as they did not manifest symptoms associated with 2019-nCoV, based on the Bureau of Quarantine’s report through Aklan Provincial Health Officer Cornelio Cuachon, a physician.

Symptoms associated with the coronavirus are coughs, colds, fever and difficulty in breathing.

Even so, some Filipinos believed that the government’s decision to ban all incoming flights from Wuhan was overdue as the tourists have already settled in the Philippines.

“Ngayon pa? E naka-pasok na ng bansa ang mga ‘yan eh. Airborne yung virus. Anong akala nila, pagbalik (ng) mga turista wala na rin yung posibilidad na makahawa ng mga Pinoy? Dapat hindi na sana pinapasok ‘yang mga Chinese sa bansa the moment na may suspected at nag-positibo,” a Facebook user said.

“Dapat ‘di na pinapasok ‘yan noong nag-uumpisa pa lang yung news about sa virus,” another Filipino commented.

Others commented that the Chinese nationals could have been preventing themselves from being infected as well.

Three Chinese nationals who previously arrived in Aklan were already cleared by health officials while a flight attendant has placed herself under “self-quarantine” after exhibiting coronavirus symptoms.

A child from Nanjing, China who arrived in Aklan is also placed under observation.

Authorities have also sent specimens of a five-year-old child who has previously tested positive for a non-specific coronavirus to Australia for further testing.

The child arrived from Wuhan to Cebu City on Tuesday, January 21.

Coronavirus outbreak 

The new coronavirus strain was initially discovered in Wuhan, China on Dec. 31, 2019 after the World Health Organization was alerted of several pneumonia cases from the municipality.

It was eventually named 2019-nCoV after authorities observed that it is a new type of virus that does not have any cure or available vaccine yet.

Its incubation period, or the time from exposure to the onset of its symptoms, is reported to be about two weeks.

Passengers in Hong Kong
Passengers wear masks to prevent an outbreak of a new coronavirus at the Hong Kong West Kowloon High Speed Train Station, in Hong Kong, China January 23, 2020. (Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

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The strain was identified as a coronavirus, which is defined as “a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV),” the WHO noted.

A coronavirus’ usual symptoms are a runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever, and “a general feeling of being unwell,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Coronaviruses among humans can cause lower-respiratory tract illnesses, such as pneumonia or bronchitis. Those with cardiopulmonary disease, weakened immune systems, infants, and older adults are more at risk of acquiring such illnesses.

The new strain of the coronavirus has already caused around 26 deaths and more than 800 infections in China, according to international reports.

It has already reached other countries through travelers, particularly to Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam and the United States.

The city of Wuhan is already on lockdown following the continuous rise of people affected by the new coronavirus.

Health officials noted that people should practice regular hand washing, thorough cooking of eggs and meat and avoiding contact with those afflicted with coughs and colds.