More questions raised as foreigners with travel history to Philippines test positive for COVID-19

March 6, 2020 - 2:33 PM
Passengers in NAIA
Passengers wearing protective masks walk towards the departure entrance of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, February 18, 2020. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

As reports of individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 with travel history in the Philippines surfaced, questions and concerns about the status of the virus are once again hurled at the Department of Health.

Last night, Taiwan‘s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that a 30-year-old male resident of northern Taiwan contracted the virus after returning from the Philippines, although it is not yet verified if he got infected in the country.

The individual was in the Philippines with his friends from February 28 to March 3. He had diarrhea on March 2 and the following day, he went to a clinic in Taiwan after he experienced “dry throat and tiredness.”

By March 5, Taiwan confirmed that he was positive for COVID-19.

“Related investigation suggested it is an imported case linked to the Philippines,” part of Taiwan’s CDC report said.

A 60-year-old woman who traveled from the Philippines to New South Wales, Australia also tested positive for the virus after she arrived in Australia on March 3.

She boarded Cebu Pacific with a flight number of 5J39.

Australian authorities said they would obtain her travel details and disclose “if she posed a risk to any other passengers on her flight,” part of the report reads.

The DOH said that it is starting to trace people who were potentially in contact with the Australian and Taiwanese COVID-19-affected individuals.

Meanwhile, a daily newspaper in Kyoto, Japan also reported that a male Japanese national who traveled in the Philippines tested positive for COVID-19.

Based on DOH’s press conference, the 44-year-old male stayed in the country from February 21 to 28 and checked in to three different hotels in Metro Manila. He only showed symptoms of the virus on February 29.

On Friday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said there are two new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, making the total of cases rise to five.

Two of the individuals previously confirmed with COVID-19 recovered while one of them died.

Meanwhile, the two new cases are both residents of Metro Manila. The fourth case is a 48-year-old Filipino male who traveled to Japan and returned to the country on February 25.

The fifth case is the country’s first local case of the virus. A 63-year-old Filipino male who did not have any travel history outside the country tested positive. He has preexisting hypertension and diabetes mellitus.

The man regularly visited a Muslim prayer hall in Barangay Greenhills, San Juan City and sought consultation in a Metro Manila hospital on March 1. He was eventually admitted and diagnosed with severe pneumonia.

The health agency said it will still verify if it is a case of local transmission.

DOH urged individuals who previously visited the prayer hall to contact them if they have manifested symptoms of the virus through their hotline (02)8-651-7800 local 1149-1150.

It added that contact tracing is also being done for the two new cases. The agency has already collected samples from the individuals’ close contacts as well.

‘Undetected mass infection?’

As reports of individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 surface, questions continue to hound Filipinos who have previously aired their doubts on DOH’s transparency.

A Twitter user wondered if there are already “silent virus carriers” among Filipinos following the international reports.

Another online user asked if the government is just “getting too complacent” or are “not testing enough” for the virus.

A Filipino likewise commented, “Taiwan & Australia reported positive cases of COVID-19 from individuals who recently traveled from the Philippines. Makes you wonder if PH has undetected mass infection already and should now be included in the hot zone list.”

Earlier this week, some Filipinos shared their skepticisms about DOH’s handling of the case given that the agency was previously reluctant in imposing a travel ban to mainland China, the country where the virus originated.

RELATED: WHO commended Philippines over fight vs COVID-19. Some are doubting confirmed cases.

There were Twitter users who questioned the Philippines’ previously unmoving figures about the confirmed COVID-19 cases, which were pegged at three during that time.

A Filipino particularly cited the known influx of Chinese nationals to the country.

“Do we really believe that there are only 3 confirmed cases in the Philippines, province of China? 3. Out of 500,000 Chinese arrivals since December, with 5,000 from Wuhan, the Philippines only has 3 confirmed cases. Seriously,” she tweeted.

Health experts previously expressed their fear that COVID-19 might be spreading undetected in Southeast Asian countries, given their proximity to China compared to other Western nations who have reported more cases.