COVID-19 hits more Filipinos in Japan cruise ship, repatriation underway

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 21 2020 05:03 PM

The cruise ship Diamond Princess is pictured beside a Japanese flag as it lies at anchor while workers and officers prepare to transfer passengers who tested positive for coronavirus, at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, Feb. 12, 2020. Kim Kyung-Hoon, Reuters

MANILA — The Department of Health on Friday said the number of Filipinos infected with COVID-19 from the cruise ship docked in Japan has risen to 52. 

“We received word this morning na meron tayong 52 positive cases for COVID-19 (from the cruise ship Diamond Princess). But still verifying kami,” said Health Assistant Secretary for Public Health Services Maria Rosario Vergeire during a press conference. She explained that they are double-checking the additional eight cases from Thursday’s count of 44.

At least one of those who tested positive already recovered in Japan.

COVID-19, a new strain of coronavirus that has mostly affected China, has infected more than 75,000 people and killed around 2,200.

Outside of China, the second most number of infected people are from the MV Diamond Princess cruise ship, with at least 634 confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization. The passengers and crew members have been quarantined onboard the ship but the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise daily.

Of the 3,200 people onboard the ship, 558 are Filipinos, mostly crew members.

Most of them will be repatriated back to the Philippines on Sunday as the Japanese government ordered the closure of the ship.

Vergeire said 460 to 480 individuals are expected to seek repatriation, which requires a 14-day quarantine at The Athlete’s Village at the New Clark City in Tarlac upon arrival in the country. 

“Before they disembark, they will be assessed by medical teams if they are showing symptoms,” the health official said. “No one with symptoms will join the repatriation.”

Two flights have already been arranged for the group, although Vergeire declined to say what time they will arrive in the Philippines. The airplanes will arrive three hours apart on Sunday at the Clark Airbase where the repatriates will ride buses to the New Clark City where they will be quarantined.

Medical teams from five hospitals, on rotation, will be assigned to monitor the repatriates during their stay. There are also 16 hospitals that will serve any repatriates who show signs and symptoms of illness.

The new batch of repatriates will undergo the usual process, although it will involve more manpower on the part of the government.

“Our crew and medical team will wear hazmat (hazardous materials) suits para to assure protektado ang crew at medical team,” Vergeire said. 

She also said that a portion of the plane will be set up as an isolation area in case one of the repatriates develop symptoms during the flight.

At the New Clark City, the repatriates will have a room of their own, although families will be allowed to stay together.

DOH said that while the Magsaysay Maritime Corporation, the company handling the Filipino crew members of the cruise ship, is paying for the transportation and accommodation expenses of the repatriates, the government will provide health human resources and transportation from the Clark Airbase to the quarantine facility.

The Magsaysay company will also provide food, personal and hygiene kits for the crew members.

“OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) will provide livelihood packages after the quarantine period,” Vergeire said. Although it was not mentioned if the crew members will be returning to work once they finish the 14-day quarantine.

WUHAN REPATRIATES

On Saturday, before the new batch of repatriates arrive, the 49 individuals from Wuhan, the epicenter of COVID-19, earlier quarantined at the New Clark City will be allowed to go home. 

“The DOH is set to conduct a send off ceremony,” said Vergeire. 

She said none of the 49, composed of 30 Filipinos who lived in Wuhan and 19 government personnel who assisted in the repatriation, showed signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Although in the past weeks, a couple of them were brought to hospitals for various ailments — from diarrhea to ear pain.

“They will now be allowed to go home to their respective places,” Vergeire said. She earlier told media that some of the repatriates will be fetched by their relatives while others will be brought home by government service.