Statement: The Secretary of Health on MERS-Corona Virus

Statement of Secretary Enrique T. Ona:
On MERS-Corona

[April 19, 2014]

Upon the President’s instructions, the Department of Health (DOH) has mobilized Task Force MERS-CoV to create heightened awareness among our people on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus (MERS-CoV) and prevent the spread of this communicable disease.

At the outset, let me point this out: there is still no epidemic or outbreak of MERS-Corona Virus in the Middle East or the Arabian Peninsula. That is why the World Health Organization (WHO) has not imposed travel restrictions to and from the Middle East.

As a health precaution, however, I have approved the issuance of a Bureau of Quarantine alert bulletin to those travelling from the Middle East and through our international airports so that those who may be affected by the MERS-Corona Virus will be given prompt assistance.

As there are tens of thousands of Filipinos working in the Middle East and hundreds of them who travel to the Middle East or return home from their jobs there daily, it is important that their families, relatives, friends, neighbors and all members of their local communities fully understand all that must be known about MERS-CoV.

Joining me at this conference is Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, DOH Program Manager on Emerging Infectious Diseases, who will give you a briefing on MERS-CoV.

As we meet with you this morning, our Task Force MERS-CoV continues to trace and test all the passengers of Etihad Airlines flight EY 0424 that arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) last Tuesday afternoon, 15 April.

One of the more than 400 passengers of that flight, including 45 foreign nationals, was a male Filipino nurse who tested positive for the MERS-CoV when he was still at Al Ain, a city that is about an hour’s drive from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE). (From here on, we will refer to him as the Index Passenger.)

We were able to track the Index Passenger while he was on his way home and requested his relatives and well-wishers to subject themselves to testing and medical observation at a DOH regional hospital.

Since ten (10) days had elapsed from the reported testing date in UAE, our Task Force decided to perform another test on the Index Passenger last 16 April.  According to the findings of our Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), he tested negative.

May I point out, however, that at the time he was traveling from Abu Dhabi to Manila last Tuesday, 15 April — a seven-hour flight — he was still deemed a positive carrier of the MERS-Corona Virus, and that all of his fellow passengers were exposed to him, including any number that may been in close contact with him for the duration of the flight, were at risk of infection.

May I emphasize this important fact: the MERS-Corona Virus is a communicable disease that may be passed on to others through exposure or close contact with a positive carrier.

Hence, all those who travelled with our Index Passenger are still deemed to be at risk, especially if we consider further that they all came from the Middle East, a high-risk area, and that the incubation period for this disease is up to 14 days.  Hence, to rule out any possibility of infection, we strongly urge all of the other passengers of EY 0424 to immediately submit themselves to testing.

Of the 415 passengers of EY 0424, we have been able to trace and contact 119 of them. Of those contacted, 72 have been tested; 40 of those tested yielded negative results.

We are greatly encouraged by the negative results obtained on the Index Passenger and all other passengers that have been tested.

Task Force MCV will continue to trace and contact the other passengers of EY 0424. Those contacted will be fetched by the Regional Epidemiology Service Unit and brought to the nearest DOH or District Hospital. Specimens from tested passengers are then sent by courier to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City and in Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) in Cebu City.

We are also calling the attention of Filipinos who have returned recently from the Middle East to report to the nearest hospital if they experience symptoms of the MED-Corona Virus which are similar to the indications of flu, including fever with cough, cold, or sneezing.

Indeed, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

We wish to thank our other partners from government for their continuing support and cooperation:

  • the Department of Labor and Employment, POEA and OWWA;
  • the Department of Foreign Affairs, and its foreign posts, especially the Philippine embassy in the UAE;
  • the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Immigration;
  • the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police (PNP);
  • the Department of National Defense and the Office of Civil Defense;
  • the Department of Transportation and Communications and its attached agencies;
  • the Presidential Communications Operations Office, and its attached agencies — People’s Television, Radyo ng Bayan, Philippine Information Agency and Philippine News Agency.

On instructions of the President, the DOH is working closely with all concerned government agencies to ensure the health and safety of our people.

The DOH assures our people, especially our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) based in the Middle East and their families and communities, that government will exert maximum efforts to keep you informed and aware of all vital developments.  We shall also extend our fullest assistance through our various regional and district hospitals, regional offices, the Bureau of Quarantine and attached agencies such as PhilHealth.

We have established 24-hour hotlines that may be called by our citizens and foreign nationals residing in the Philippines that may need assistance (please take note of the contact hotlines flashed on the screen):

711-1001; 711-1002; 0922-884-1564; 0920-949-8419; 0915-772-5621.

MERS-Corona Virus is a communicable disease, so it is important that we all work together to prevent the infection from spreading.

Maging handa, maagap at mapag-masid po tayong lahat.  Pairalin natin ang diwa ng Bayanihan para sa kalusugan at kaligtasan nating lahat.