MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — The Philippines' health department on Thursday confirmed that it plans to quarantine at New Clark City (NCC) north of Manila starting Sunday the estimated 500 Filipinos who will be repatriated from Japan.
“I was told there will be two planes that will bring in our compatriots,” arriving in two-to-three hour gap at Haribon Hangar in Clark Airbase, Pampanga province, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a press conference.
The repatriates include crew members and passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship that is quarantined while docked in Yokohama, Japan. More than 500 people aboard it have contracted the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
“They will now be accommodated in the New Clark City Athlete’s Village,” Duque said, referring to the same facility where Filipino repatriates from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, are being quarantined.
The disease has already claimed the lives of more than 2,000 people, mainly in China.
Duque said they had to move the repatriation date earlier because there are plans to close down the ship. The United States, Australia, Canada, South Korea and Hong Kong, among others, also evacuated their respective nationals from the same ship that originally carried some 3,700 passengers and crew.
“I think the Japanese gov’t have already decided that they will close down the ship. This is not for sure yet,” he said. “We have to bring them out as soon as possible. For those who earlier indicated they would want to stay behind, they had a change of heart because it seems all of them (are already leaving).”
The local government of Capas in Tarlac, where the NCC is located, initially opposed the quarantine there of Filipino repatriates from Wuhan amid concerns on the spread of the disease. But the national government has allayed such fears, saying precautions are in place.
Asked if the national government has reached out to the local government, Duque pointed out that the inter-agency task force unanimously decided to house the new batch of repatriates at the NCC.
“That is already decided,” he said, adding that the agencies also sent a letter to the local government to inform them of the decision.
Duque said there will be at least 16 hospitals that will cater to the repatriates.
“What I know is that per hospital participating, there will be two doctors, four nurses, two nursing attendants, two utility workers,” he said.
Enough health workers are needed to ensure the health and the safety of the repatriates, he said.
Duque said the exact number of repatriates arriving on Sunday will depend on how many will be cleared to enter the country. These are those who will test negative for COVID-19 and do not have symptoms of the illness.
However, he said those who tested positive for COVID-19 and then recovered in Japan could also be considered for repatriation. But they will also be required to undergo the additional 14-day quarantine period.
With the first batch of repatriation from Wuhan City deemed a success, Duque said the same process will be implemented.
He said the repatriates will be screened for symptoms such as fever before they board the plane and after they disembark at Clark.
Those who show symptoms before boarding the flight will have to stay behind in Japan and undergo treatment there.
Duque said Magsaysay Shipping Line will pay for the accommodation and food expenses of the repatriates during their quarantine.
Of the more than 500 Filipinos onboard the MV Diamond Princess, at least 41 tested positive for COVID-19. Duque said the number has already increased to 44.
The Department of Foreign Affairs also confirmed this.
“Yes, 41 plus 3 new cases. [And] minus one who has recovered,” Assistant Secretary Eduardo Meñez of DFA's Office of Strategic Communication and Research told ABS-CBN News in a text message.
While the mortality rate of the new coronavirus is not as high as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), it is more contagious with at least 75,000 people already infected globally, mainly in China.