WHO allays public fears over new coronavirus spread

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 23 2020 01:12 PM | Updated as of Jan 23 2020 03:51 PM

An airport staff monitors arriving passengers at the NAIA Terminal 1 in Parañaque City in a move to prevent the spread of the novel Coronavirus from China on January 22, 2020.  Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The World Health Organization's (WHO) representative in the Philippines on Thursday reminded the public that having flu-like symptoms does not warrant an immediate need to get tested for coronavirus.

"Right now, the number is very small and largely concentrated in China. Do you have travel history coming from China? Without that evidence there is no need to unnecessarily get anxious and ask for a coronavirus test for anybody who is exhibiting respiratory symptoms," said Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe.

On ANC's Headstart, Abeyasinghe said that thermal scanners cannot detect if a person is carrying the coronavirus.

"At this point in time we have to depend largely on your travel history and exposure to possible known cases," he said. 

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The 2019 Novel coronavirus causes respiratory infections, he said. But since this is the flu season, many people may have those signs and symptoms.

"So to determine if somebody is actually infected with this virus you need a definitive test as we've seen in the case of the child detected in Cebu," he said.

He stressed the need to be honest with doctors about their travel history so they can make an assessment and act accordingly.

The WHO official also urged the public that since it's the flu season, people who have signs of respiratory infections, even if it’s just a common cold, should practice some degree of social etiquette. 

"Distancing, avoid crowded places so that they minimize the risk of infecting other people. So it's not only about healthy people trying to protect themselves but the onus is also on people exhibiting signs of a respiratory infection because we don't know what we are dealing with," he said.

While health experts are still trying to understand the clinical spectrum of the disease, Abeyasinghe said there appears to be many cases with mild disease but some of them are progressing to severe pneumonia.

"The spectrum of the disease dictates that you could have just respiratory infection with a mild fever [or] you could have a severe infection. We're working to better understand what proportions are involved in this, who is more at risk," he said.

He likewise urged elderly people and those suffering from preexisting medical conditions to be more careful.

"It looks like a vaccine would be an easy solution and very reassuring product to have but we haven't so far succeeded," he said.

The 2019 Novel coronavirus is assumed to be linked to an animal product because the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China was concentrated around the seafood market that also sells meat products.

"Basically, what has happened is that the virus has acquired the ability to move from one human to another human," he said, adding that human transmission could be in the form of bodily fluids like saliva, and depending on the degree of contact with the infected person.

Coronaviruses are a large family of diseases ranging from the common cold to the deadlier Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), according to the World Health Organization.

The WHO is still holding talks on whether or not to announce a public health emergency that would provide for a coordinated response across member states and international boarders to address severe public health threats.

"That gives the provision for the organization to ask member states to implement certain restrictions but that needs to be carefully evaluated... that's the seriousness of the issue because all of these decisions [are] directly tied to people's livelihood so we need to take a careful risk assessment before such a decision is made," he said.

Meanwhile, he believes the Philippines and the entire region, is ready to handle this following the SARS outbreak.

"What is clear is that we are better prepared as a region to deal with an outbreak this type and maybe that's also resulting in less deaths," he said.